May 31, 2003
Tallahassee, FL - For the 10th straight year the Florida State baseball team has advanced to play in a regional final due to its 17-7 win over Rutgers (37-22) Saturday night. The Seminoles (52-11-1) did it the hard way as they fought through the loser's bracket to set up a rematch with second-seeded South Alabama (42-17) Sunday at 1:30 p.m. The Tribe will need to defeat the Jaguars twice if they want to avoid missing out on a Super Regional for the first time in team history.
"Well, we certainly had a dogfight out there. We were hoping that when we got a big lead that we could sit back and cruise. Boy you have really got to credit Rutgers, they kept coming at us and fighting and scoring runs," said head coach Mike Martin. "I was just very elated when we were able to score eight in the inning and bust it wide open.
"So we are just very glad to have the opportunity to come back and play tomorrow, lineup and see what happens. I think it is more or less a gut check. I think we know it is going to be difficult but at the same time it is not impossible."
The Seminoles hit three home runs and banged out 15 hits and were led by Jacksonville, FL native Tony Richie. The catcher went 2 for 4, scored two runs and led the team with three RBIs. Five other FSU players had multi-RBI games in the win and overall nine Seminoles recorded and RBI in the win. Mark Sauls (Panama City, FL) picked up the win for FSU on the mound as he improved to 5-0. Johnny Defendis (Staten Island, NY) was the star for the Scarlet Knights at the plate going 2 for 5 with three RBIs.
"We knew our season could end in a game so our backs are against the wall. We just have to play hard and get out of this regional and look forward to the upcoming week but we can't do that until we win two games tomorrow. I think our team has the guts to do it," said Richie.
In the top of the second, Florida State took a lead on Rutgers starter Aaron Kalb (2-3). The Seminoles used singles by Jerrod Brown (Auburndale, FL) and Chris Hart (Clearwater, FL) to set the table for Bryan Zech. The Wellington, FL native's fly out to center drove in the first run of the game putting FSU in front 1-0.
The Seminoles were back at it in the top of the third as they put together a two-out rally. Eddy Martinez-Esteve (Miami, FL) started things off by drawing a walk. Brown followed by lacing a line drive off the wall in center. Center fielder Nick Cerulo (Woodbridge, N.J.) collided with the wall and laid motionless as Brown circled the bases with the inside the park home run. Cerulo remained in the game for the Scarlet Knights but the Seminoles vaulted out to a 3-0 lead.
For the third straight inning FSU put runs on the board as they broke the game open in the fourth with five runs. Chris Hart (Clearwater, FL) opened the frame by doubling to right field. The inning was highlighted by Richie's two-RBI double and Martinez-Esteve's two-RBI single as the Tribe seemed to be cruising with an 8-0 lead.
Rutgers halved the lead in the bottom of the inning. Vinny Esposito (Middletown, N.J,) started things off with a solo homer over the 30-foot fence in right field and was followed by Curelo, Mike Bionde (Pompton Plains, N.J) and Steve Normane (West Orange, N.J.), who each came through with RBIs as the Scarlet Knights scored four runs to close the gap at 8-4.
"We gave them eight and bounced back with four and were still in the ballgame and then we collapsed," said Scarlet Knight head coach Fred Hill. "The only thing disappointing for me is that we played great defense all year, and we kind of fell apart this series."
The top-seeded Seminoles answered right back by scoring in their fourth straight inning. Florida State pounded out eight runs on seven hits, hit two home runs and drew three walks. The eight runs and seven hits in the fifth inning alone were more than FSU mustered all game in the loss earlier in the day to South Alabama.
The Tribe added another run in the seventh while RU rallied to post a couple of scores in the bottom of the ninth before its season came to an end.
Florida State and South Alabama take the field at 1:30 p.m. Sunday, June 1 for the right to advance to the Super-Regional. The Seminoles will look to repeat their magic from 2000 when they took two from UCF on a Sunday to move on to the Super Regional. The Jaguars will be looking to move on to their first-ever Super Regional. The last time USA was in this position was 1997 when LSU took two games from them on the final day of regionals to spoil the squads World Series dreams.