April 8, 2011
By Bob Thomas, Seminoles.com
TALLAHASSEE, Fla. - Florida State left-handed ace Sean Gilmartin said his, "Welcome to big-time college baseball moment" came two years ago against North Carolina when he climbed the hill at Dick Howser Stadium.
"That was pretty fun experience for me, because I had never seen this place packed out like that," Gilmartin said, remembering that freshman night.
Now a junior, facing UNC at home for the final time, Gilmartin will take his customary start at the front end of the rotation tonight when the top 10 Seminoles (22-7, 8-4 ACC) and Tar Heels (26-4, 10-2) open their three-game, Atlantic Coast Conference series. UNC will send right-hander Patrick Johnson to the mound in a match-up of two 6-0 hurlers.
First pitch in the pivotal series - which is also serving as Florida State's Baseball Alumni Weekend - is set for 6 p.m.
From the way both teams are built, their similar styles and the personalities of their coaches, FSU and UNC mirror each other in many ways, which usually makes for a series of competitive games.
North Carolina coach Mike Fox and Florida State skipper Mike Martin are 1-2 among active Division I coaches in career winning percentage. Their respective teams also claim a No. 7 ranking as the highest among the four major polls heading into the intra-division showdown.
"It's always a good one," said FSU assistant coach Mike Martin, Jr. "Those guys have done a heckuva job up there. They do things right. They're high tempo. They like to do the same things we do - taking the extra base, pitching fast and they're going to run out arms at you that are impressive. We've got our work cut out for us."
The Seminoles and Tar Heels match up statistically similar in many categories as well. Both teams display patience at the plate, run the bases aggressively, play sound defense and boast outstanding strikeout-to-walk ratios on the mound. Not surprisingly, those are principles both programs have been built on.
"They're like looking in the mirror every time we play them," Martin Jr. said.
Gilmartin would like nothing more than to set the pace with a different kind of result in tonight's opener. Despite two solid starting performances in each of the last two seasons against UNC, he has yet to record a decision.
"The past two years against North Carolina, both game I went into the seventh with the lead or tied," Gilmartin said. "North Carolina is always one of those teams that's going to give you a pretty good run for your money. They play the game pretty well, they pitch extremely well and they hit when they need to it."
North Carolina has won 13 of its last 14 games since losing a pair at Wake Forest earlier in the season. They are still chasing Virginia and Georgia Tech in the Coastal Division standings. The Seminoles are trying to extend their three-game lead in the ACC's Atlantic Division while improving on their 15-2 home record.
Quite obviously, the series has significant postseason and RPI implications.
"I think it will set the tone for the rest of the year, if we come out and play well," Gilmartin said.