June 10, 2011
By Bob Thomas, Seminoles.com
TALLAHASSEE, Fla. - Mike Martin has seen enough of Texas A&M's pitching on video to know that his Florida State baseball team will have to earn the two victories that separate the Seminoles from a 21st College World Series.
The Seminoles (45-17) open Tallahassee Super Regional play against the Aggies (47-19) Saturday (4:30 p.m., ESPNU-HD) at Dick Howser Stadium, in pursuit of their third CWS appearance in four seasons.
In a match-up of strikingly different styles, yet eerily similar statistics, Martin's club hopes to use its three-game NCAA Regional sweep as a springboard in front of the home crowd.
"To say that it's no advantage is a lie," said Martin, when asked if playing at home would give the `Noles an edge. "It's an advantage. We're sleeping in our own beds, playing on a field that we're familiar with, in front of our fans. But it certainly is no guarantee for anything. We have to go out and play, and play well."
Rob Childress' Big XII championship team will force that issue. With a pitching staff which ranks among the best in the nation (2.64 ERA), a sound defensive unit (.977) and potent running game (104 stolen bases), the Aggies will try and neutralize an FSU offense that is averaging 7.2 runs per game and whacked out a season-high 19 hits in its regional championship win over Alabama.
A&M right-hander Ross Stripling (13-2, 2.28) will square off against Seminoles' ace left-hander Sean Gilmartin (12-1, 1.82).
Martin said Friday that he has watched four of the Aggies' games on video and is quite impressed.
"The pitchers throw the ball to location," he said. "Their pitchers know how to pitch... They're a polished baseball team. I didn't find any weaknesses."
Texas A&M's offense is led by sophomore All-American and Big XII Player of the Year Tyler Naquin (.392), who bats leadoff and plays centerfield. Freshmen All-American outfielder Krey Bratsen (.343) bats second, while Matt Juengel and Jacob House have combined for 94 RBI in the power production spots.
FSU clearly has the edge in experience, with four, fourth-year seniors who were instrumental in snapping the program's seven-year drought between CWS trips back in 2008.
"They're playing very, very well," Childress said of the Seminoles. "There's not a guy in that lineup where you can catch your breath."
Childress added that the `Noles reminded him of Big XII rival Oklahoma in the way the roster is built. Of course, the Aggies beat the Sooners twice to win the regular season series.
"We feel like we play well in weekend series," said Childress, whose club won 11 of 14 series this season, then swept their way to a third Big XII title in his six years at the helm. With Childress in charge, Texas A&M has made five consecutive NCAA Regional appearances and this is their third trip to a Super Regional.
What the Aggies haven't done is find their way back to Omaha, Neb. for the CWS, where they made their fourth and final appearance in 1999. That was four CWS appearances ago for the Seminoles, who defeated the '99 Aggies 7-3 in the opening game at Rosenblatt Stadium and went on to play for the championship.
"The last two (Super Regionals) we got to the door and walked away quietly," Childress said.
Martin is hopeful that his team will carry its regional momentum - when the `Noles batted .398 - going in the face of a stout A&M pitching staff.