GAINESVILLE, Fla. – Mike Martin figured that for Florida State to win two of three at top-ranked Florida, the Seminoles would need to play nearly perfect baseball.
Then when they did on Saturday, it sparked a belief that FSU could win one of the next two, topple the team that had been ranked No. 1 almost all season long and clinch a most-satisfying berth in the College World Series.
But up against a pitching staff that boasted six selections in last week’s MLB amateur draft, the Seminoles needed to take advantage of any and every opportunity.
The opportunities came, but the key moments never did. The Gators won 5-0 on Sunday and 7-0 in Monday’s decisive Game 3 to win the Super Regional and end FSU’s season for a second straight season.
“Don’t know if I’ve seen a stronger pitching staff,” Martin said. “… Florida is very deserving of a No. 1 seed.”
FSU’s reward for besting the Gators on Saturday was a date with Logan Shore, the SEC pitcher of the year and a second-round draft pick, on Sunday. And then a follow-up appointment with A.J. Puk, the No. 6 overall pick of the draft, on Monday.
And although Shore kept FSU quiet, the Seminoles actually had a chance to crack Puk in Game 3.
The hard-throwing lefty surrendered only one hit, but he had trouble retiring FSU’s patient hitters. He issued six walks, hit a batter and had already thrown 83 pitches by the time UF coach Kevin O’Sullivan pulled him after just 3 2/3 innings.
But despite Puk’s flirting with trouble, FSU never managed to make him or the Gators pay.
The Seminoles finished 0 for 15 at the plate with runners on base and 0 for 8 with runners in scoring position.
“(Puk) was struggling a little bit. We got the bases loaded and all of a sudden he throws three very good breaking balls,” Martin said.
It was a theme for the weekend. FSU’s offense went 0 for 20 with runners in scoring position across the series.
“Any time you’re playing a good team like that, you’ve got to take advantage of every opportunity you get,” FSU senior John Sansone said.
“The frustration was kind of the same. We kind of had a little better at-bats tonight, but we couldn’t get the big hit.”
That they frustrated one of the top pro pitching prospects in the nation provided the Seminoles little consolation.
But a look at what lies ahead might ease the pain some.
The Seminoles weren’t quite ready to look forward in the wake of Monday’s loss, but when they do, they’ll see what appears to be a loaded lineup that returns almost every major contributor.
FSU’s young offensive core of Dylan Busby, Taylor Walls, Cal Raleigh and Jackson Lueck will all be back.
So will Drew Carlton, Tyler Holton and Cole Sands, all three promising members of what looks like a stout weekend rotation.
Throw in veteran stalwarts Quincy Nieporte, Ben DeLuzio and Matt Henderson, and the Seminoles have the makings of a team that can build on what it accomplished this season.
“It was a good year,” Martin said. “Obviously when you don’t get to Omaha, it’s a disappointment. But we’re not taking anything away from what this ball club accomplished.”
Martin also acknowledged Sansone, the lone senior in the regular starting lineup. The New Castle, Pa., native enjoyed a startling breakout in his final year, hitting .370 with a team-high 65 RBIs and nine home runs on the way to third-team All-America honors from Louisville Slugger.
“This one is special,” Martin said, motioning toward Sansone in his postgame press conference. “We’re going to really miss him.”
But they’re also going to move forward confident in their foundation. And ready to take advantage of the opportunities that lie ahead.
“It’s only my first year but I know we’ve got a lot of good guys coming back,” said Raleigh, who earned multiple freshman All-American honors. “We’re certainly going to miss John and the rest of the seniors. He meant so much.
“On the other side of it, yeah, I’m really excited.”