May 28, 2011
By Bob Thomas, Seminoles.com
DURHAM, N.C. - A fast start and stellar pitching delivered Florida State a 4-2 ACC Tournament victory over Georgia Tech Sunday morning at Durham Bulls Athletic Park.
The early-morning conquest of the Yellow Jackets, coupled with Clemson's 6-3 win over NC State, delivers the defending ACC champion Seminoles a third consecutive trip to the title game. Mike Martin's club also walked off the field with a significant victory in pursuit of a top-eight NCAA national seed.
"I said last night about how important every game is this time of the year," said Martin. "This one had a little extra implication because both clubs are vying for a top-eight seed. I thought our young men really played exceptionally."
The Seminoles (42-16) were especially stout on the mound, where Mike McGee (3-3) delivered 5.1 innings of two-hit, shutout work. The senior earned his 20th career victory when his teammates jumped on Georgia Tech starter Buck Farmer (10-3) for three runs in the third and a big insurance run in the fourth.
In a battle of Top 10 NCAA RPI teams, the No. 4 Seminoles scored an important, resume-building victory over the No. 7 Yellow Jackets. FSU improved its record against Top 10 RPI competition to 8-7, which included a 6-3 tournament win over No. 9 Clemson on Thursday.
FSU relievers Brian Busch and Daniel made the 4-0 cushion stand up. Busch worked out of sixth-inning jam, getting Daniel Palka to ground into an inning-ending double play in the sixth after entering with the bases loaded. The Yellow Jackets (40-19) did touch Busch for a pair of runs in the seventh, but Bennett came on with one out in the eighth and locked down his 14th save of the season.
Bennett's save had a little drama after Jackets Brandon Thomas and Zane Evans doubled and singled to open the ninth. Pinch-runner Connor Winn replaced Evans and was immediately picked off Bennett.
"It is something we practice every day during the pitcher drills," said Bennett. "With a new guy coming into the game, I felt like he's not really looking for it. ... If we get him, we get him. If not, we go after the batter."
Bennett he followed the pickoff by striking out Kyle Wren, then got Jacob Esch to pop to first for the final out.
"I didn't even know it was coming," FSU catcher Rafael Lopez said of Bennett's pickoff. "I thought he was going to throw to third. I love it and it usually gets us out of a jam."
Lopez factored in both run-scoring innings for the Seminoles, singling to lead off the third and doubling with one out in the fourth. In each instance, FSU capitalized, which proved fortuitous, since the Jackets held the `Noles hitless after the fourth.
Lopez and McGee laced back-to-back singles to start the third and Jayce Boyd's one-out, infield single loaded the bases. Sherman Johnson worked Farmer for a run-scoring walk and Justin Gonzalez's sacrifice fly to center gave the Seminoles a 2-0 lead. Farmer compounded his troubles with an errant throw on a pickoff attempt at second allowed Boyd to race home for what proved to be the game-winning run.
"I thought we were very sloppy," Georgia Tech coach Danny Hall said. "We got off to a slow start and did some uncharacteristic things. Buck probably started a little slow, but I thought he finished the game really well. We didn't swing the bats at all early, and in my mind, that kind of gave them some easy outs."
Lopez's one-out double to center in the fourth paid off when Georgia Tech second baseman was late on his throw to first after corralling James Ramsey's bounding ball up the middle. Ramsey padded his team-leading RBI total to 62 for a 4-0 lead.
While the timely offensive production was critical, so was McGee's performance on the mound. He held the Jackets hitless through 4.2 innings before Thomas lined an infield single off his glove and narrowly beat Gonzalez's throw across the diamond after a diving stop. An Esch single with one out in the sixth and consecutive walks to load the bases ended his day.
"I just got tired at the end there," said McGee. "I ran out of gas, but I felt good for the most part. I was hitting my spots well. I was actually able to throw some change-ups and get outs with change-ups, which has been big for me this year. It seems like when I am able to do that I have a decent outing. I feel pretty good about it."
So did Martin.
"Michael went out there, gave us five strong innings, and really gave us a lift," Martin said.
It was all the boost the Seminoles could hope for. By adding a pair of wins worthy of the NCAA Baseball committee's attention, FSU has made its case for inclusion in the top eight.
The Seminoles will send Hunter Scantling to the mound in Sunday's 1 p.m. title game, most likely against Virginia.