TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – The most obvious news from Monday’s NCAA baseball tournament selection show was that, once again, the Tallahassee regional is paired with the Gainesville regional.
Which means that if Florida State is headed to Omaha this year, its road will likely run through the No. 1 seed Florida Gators.
But as far as coach Mike Martin is concerned, the Seminoles have a long way to go before they concern themselves with UF. FSU first must navigate a challenging regional that features two conference champions and a stout at-large team.
Florida State (37-20), the No. 1 seed in the regional, begins its tournament run Friday at 6 p.m. against No. 4 Alabama State (38-15). No. 2 Southern Mississippi (40-18) and No. 3 South Alabama (40-20) open the weekend Friday at noon.
“There’s a lot of baseball to be played,” Martin said. “For us to think that we are going to be playing Florida at Florida (would not be) very smart. We have a game with Alabama State that we must play well in in order to be successful.
“So our focus is on Alabama State.”
A look at the resumes of each regional team suggests that Martin has a point.
Alabama State punched its NCAA ticket by winning the SWAC tournament, and coach Mervyl Melendez is no stranger to the big stage, having guided Bethune-Cookman to 11 NCAA appearances in 12 seasons at the helm. ASU also was named the HBCU national champion by blackcollegenines.com for the second straight year.
Beyond the Hornets, FSU also faces potential matchups with a strong Southern Miss team that won the Conference-USA tournament and finished 18th in the NCAA’s Ratings Percentage Index, as well as a South Alabama squad that started the season 15-0 on its way to a share of the Sun Belt Conference’s regular-season title.
“I’m telling you, (the regional) is very competitive,” Martin said. “We know that. We approach it with the same approach we would have if we were playing any of the (ACC) members. Because they can all get after it.”
Then again, if last week is any indication, so can the Seminoles.
After a difficult stretch in May, the Seminoles reversed their fortunes with a walk-off win over rival Miami in the regular season finale. That momentum carried over into an impressive performance at the ACC tournament, where FSU rallied for victories over NC State, Georgia Tech and Miami on their way to the conference championship game.
Even an 18-13 loss to Clemson in the title game allowed for some positive vibes. FSU overcame an early start, some sloppy defending and several weather delays to climb out of an 18-1 hole and make a game of it in the later innings.
“We’re a different ball club than we were six weeks ago,” Martin said. “We got some young men that are back to healthy. Overall, we played very well up in Durham”
Now the Seminoles just hope that can carry over into their return to Tallahassee.
The regional also offers a throwback to an era when FSU used to play the Golden Eagles and Jaguars regularly. FSU and Southern Miss were regular rivals in the old Metro Conference, having met 49 times between 1982 and 1991. And the Seminoles played USA 10 times between 1972 and 1990.
Martin fondly recalls FSU’s meetings with South Alabama from his days as an assistant coach.
“Before some of y’all were in high school – make that grade school – we played South Alabama and it was as big a game as we had when we played Louisville or Miami,” he said. “It was a huge rival when I first started here. Big rival, packed houses, people all over standing in the outfield.
“South Alabama, great tradition. Southern Miss used to compete against us in the Metro. Very good teams in this regional.”
Regional rotation set
Martin revealed Monday that sophomore Drew Carlton (6-3, 4.15 ERA) will start Friday against Alabama State, and freshman Tyler Holton (2-3, 2.89) will be on the mound for Game 2.
If the Seminoles advance to a third game, freshman Cole Sands (5-6, 4.40) will be next in line.
Martin: Texas’ Garrido ‘an icon’
Shortly after FSU learned its postseason fate, news broke that legendary Texas coach Augie Garrido had stepped down and accepted an administrative position in the UT athletics department.
A five-time national champion who won titles with Cal State Fullerton and Texas, Garrido retired as the all-time winningest coach in college baseball history.
He and Martin met several times on the baseball field, and they share a relationship that dates back to well before Martin became FSU’s head coach.
“Augie is an icon. That’s the only way to say it,” Martin said. “He’s a legend. I have to admit I was a little surprised that he stepped down. But he is a guy that a lot of young coaches have gotten a lot of information from. He’s a good guy.”
With Garrido’s retirement, Martin takes over as the winningest active coach in college baseball with 1,894 career victories. He sits just 81 behind Garrido’s 1,975.
Martin also recently moved to No. 2 on the all-time wins list, surpassing Gordon Gillespie, who won 1,893 games at Lewis College, St. Francis College and Ripon College from 1953-2011. Martin picked up win No. 1,894 last week against Miami.