June 4, 2012
TALLAHASSEE, Fla. -- Before the 2012 season started, first-year Florida State pitching coach Mike Bell gathered his players and talked to them about the importance of experience.
It was one of many season-starting conversations that Bell would have but it is one in particular that is ringing especially pertinent at this point in the 'Noles' season-long journey.
"I talked to the staff a little bit about that at the beginning of the year," Bell said Sunday night after the Seminoles had defeated Samford and advanced to a fifth consecutive super regional. "The experiences that [Brian] Busch, [Hunter] Scantling, [Robert] Benincasa and those guys that have been to Omaha and have been in the postseason. [Scott] Sitz pitching against Alabama last year.
"Their experience that they can pass over to the young guys is important."
FSU's veteran pitchers were able to take freshmen Brandon Leibrandt and Mike Compton under their wings and the results spoke for themselves. Coupled with Bell's coaching, the rookie tandem went on to become the Seminoles' one-two punch on the mound and will enter their first super regional this weekend with a combined 18-4 record in 16 starts apiece.
The two freshmen get the opportunity to face Stanford with a College World Series berth up for grabs in part because of several team factors such as improved defensive play after a late-season swoon, continued strong hitting from the top of the lineup and a recharged bottom of the order.
But none of those was any more important than what FSU's top two pitchers did over the weekend.
First, Leibrandt propelled the 'Noles into the regional final with a dominating Saturday performance against Samford. The Alpharetta, Ga. struck out 10 Bulldogs in eight innings of shut-out work as Florida State won 8-1.
Then Compton continued the trend against Samford, retiring 13 of the first 15 batters he faced Sunday before leading FSU to a 5-2 win behind six strong innings.
"It is a little different hearing about what it's like to play in the postseason as opposed to actually going out there and having all those people in the stands and knowing the implications of what the regional games mean," Compton said. "It definitely gets the butterflies going in your stomach but you settle down and when you have a defense like we have and the guys that we have."
Leibrandt and Compton will now be expected to take their new experiences from the Samford game, combine them with a season's worth of lessons learned -- both personally gained and acquired from Bell and older pitchers on staff -- and apply it to Stanford.
The Cardinal come to Tallahassee as a team that ranks in the top 25 nationally in runs scored. Stanford combined for 22 runs its own three-game sweep as a regional host this past weekend.
Two wins and the Seminoles are headed back to Omaha. Two losses and the 2012 season comes to a screechng halt.
It's a tall, pressure-packed task for any pitcher, rookies to fifth-year hurlers included.
But it's one that FSU's now-seasoned rookies are ready to stare down.
"We have a saying here at Florida State, `You're not a freshman anymore in the postseason,'" FSU coach Mike Martin said. "But it's easier said than done as you well know. ... It means a lot to us to realize that they're not freshmen anymore. They've pitched against everybody all year long and I'm very proud of them."