TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – Before Saturday afternoon, Jackson Lueck had never hit a walk-off home run at any level of baseball.
He picked a great time for his first.
With Florida State and Miami tied at two in the bottom of the 10th inning, Lueck, a freshman outfielder, swung through a hanging changeup and launched it over the wall in right-centerfield at Dick Howser Stadium.
He sprinted around the bases, tossed his helmet aside after rounding third and then found a mob of teammates waiting as he crossed home plate for the run that made it Florida State 3, Miami 2.
“It’s hard to describe, honestly,” Lueck said with a smile. “I couldn’t feel my feet. I don’t know if it’s because we were out there for so long or just the energy.”
Maybe a little bit of both.
Lueck’s homer capped a marathon of a day between the Seminoles and Hurricanes, who saw their annual series pushed around by inclement weather in Tallahassee over the last few days.
Thursday’s opener boasted two weather delays, and Friday’s contest was postponed and rescheduled for a Saturday doubleheader.
Which meant 18 innings of baseball on a humid afternoon.
Make that 19.
“I was like ‘Thank God this is over,’” freshman catcher Cal Raleigh said. “I was tired.”
With good reason. Raleigh spent Saturday battling an illness and still looked a little green at his post-game press conference.
But after leaving Game 1 in the fifth inning, Raleigh returned for Game 2. And no matter how bad he felt, he refused to come out.
“I tried to take him out twice,” FSU coach Mike Martin said.
Good thing he didn’t. Raleigh powered past his illness to finish 3 for 4 at the plate, and his RBI double in the bottom of the seventh tied the game at 2-2 after the Hurricanes took a late lead.
“I guess you can look at it two ways,” Raleigh said. “You can sit on the bench and be sick or you can play and be sick.”
“It was ‘Michael Jordan’ flu,” Martin added. “… He comes out with his teeth gritted after the first game and says, ‘I’m OK. I’m ready.’ … He would not use sickness as an excuse. And he was adamant with his look and his tone of voice.”
Lueck and Raleigh were two of FSU’s biggest heroes on Saturday, but they were far from the only ones.
Freshman starter Tyler Holton did more than his part, holding the No. 3 Hurricanes to just two hits and one earned run across six innings.
And, save for a solo home run in the seventh, the bullpen combo of Alec Byrd, Jim Voyles, Matt Kinney and Tyler Warmouth held UM at bay the rest of the way.
Finally, Florida State’s defense made one of its most impressive plays of the season in the top of the 10th.
With UM’s Jacob Heyward on first base with one out, Edgar Micahelangeli bounced a high chopper toward third. Although FSU’s John Sansone fielded it cleanly, his throw to first wasn’t in time. Then, as Heyward sprinted toward third, hoping to catch the Seminoles napping, first baseman Dylan Busby fired across the field and Warmouth, covering the bag for Sansone, applied the tag to record the second out.
The next batter, Miami’s Joe Gomez, flew out to center field and what might have been a go-ahead sacrifice fly instead was the final out of the the inning.
“That was a head’s-up play,” Martin said. “That is how you win ballgames, yes. Those things right there can win ballgames for you.”
A few moments later, Lueck won this particular ballgame in dramatic fashion.
It was a great time for a win, too.
The Seminoles entered Saturday’s nightcap having lost six of seven and in danger of making some unwelcome history: No FSU team had ever been swept by rivals Miami and Florida in the regular season.
This one, however, was determined not to be the first. And its win on Saturday could have significant implications. The Seminoles begin postseason play at next week’s ACC tournament, and while Martin conceded that a top-eight national seed is likely off the table, FSU can still solidify its place as an NCAA regional host with a strong showing.
“I’m obviously happy for that group in there that has been in a funk, for lack of a better word,” Martin said. “…This win today could have been the hurdle we needed to get over in order to host a Regional.”
It certainly made believers out of the players.
It’s funny the way one swing can alter perceptions. With Saturday’s walk-off win in hand, all the things FSU did well over the weekend are more easily magnified. The Seminoles outhit UM in two of three contests, led for most of Thursday’s game and put the tying run to the plate in the ninth inning after falling behind 8-1 in Saturday’s early session.
And FSU’s shortcomings – chief among them a 3-for-37 mark with runners in scoring position over the weekend – can be viewed differently, too. After all, if the Seminoles continue to put runners on with that type of frequency going forward, the runs likely won’t be far behind.
“Everybody goes through a rough stretch,” Raleigh said. “The whole season, up until last week, we were a top-5 team in the nation. We just had a rough stretch and got it out of the way.
“We know we’re one of the best teams in the country. We’ll get back. We’ll be fine.”