TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – Praise for his starting pitcher aside, Mike Martin didn’t have a lot of good things to say in the wake of Florida State’s 3-1 loss to Tennessee Tech on Friday. But if there was any reason for him to feel encouraged, it was this: The Seminoles have been here before – not all that long ago, in fact – and responded in fine fashion.
And so here they are again, backs against the wall and their season on the line when they meet UCF Saturday at noon in the first elimination game of the NCAA Tallahassee Regional.
For Florida State to advance out of the regional for a third straight year, it will need to win four games over the next three days.
Not that Martin was in any mood to look that far ahead.
“Obviously we’re not out of it,” Martin said. “We’ve got a tough road ahead of us. It starts against a very good UCF club tomorrow at noon.”
In moving forward, the Seminoles can take comfort by looking back at some recent history.
It was not quite three weeks ago that Florida State had lost a series to Wake Forest and headed on the road for a stretch that would define its season.
No, none of the games that followed had the same stakes as what the Seminoles will face on Saturday. But with what was then a 33-20 record and a slate of games at then-No. 2 Louisville, followed by the ACC tournament, FSU was fighting for its postseason life every time it took the field.
What happened next was as startling as it was impressive: Six straight victories, including four against ranked opponents, on the way to a two-game sweep of the Cardinals (the third game was rained out) and an ACC tournament crown.
It led to FSU being named an NCAA regional host just weeks after sitting on the tournament bubble, and, on the heels of the Seminoles’ scorching run through the month of May – they were 12-2 – it led some college baseball pundits to predict a run to the College World Series.
That, of course, is still on the table. But the Seminoles have work to do.
Asked what he told the team after the game, Martin said:
“Just be sure that they’re not going to take this game to the ballpark tomorrow. It’s over with. We’ve got to be ready to go tomorrow.”
FSU has a few reasons to feel good about its chances.
First and foremost, ace pitcher Tyler Holton will start against the Knights, and he’s been virtually unhittable recently.
In his last three outings, Holton has gone no fewer than eight innings. And he’s allowed a total of 13 hits and two earned runs while walking just four batters and striking out 20.
The Seminoles also know they can beat UCF. They did it twice in Orlando earlier this season and own a 33-6 all-time record against the Knights.
Finally, Martin and his staff have experience to lean on in this situation. In 2008, the Seminoles were blanked by Bucknell in their first regional game, then roared back to advance and eventually finish their season in Omaha.
It’s not an ideal scenario, but it can be done.
“It’s a tough road,” Martin said. “We’ve just got to trust each other, and we’ve got pitchers that are ready.”
But so, too, does UCF. The Knights are set to throw Chris Williams, a third-year sophomore who owns a 2.43 ERA that’s best among the team’s weekend starters. Beyond that, they’ve got a deep staff with a 2.93 team ERA that ranks fourth in the country.
“We have the arms to come out of the loser’s bracket,” UCF coach Greg Lovelady said.
And FSU must be better than it was on Friday night. Tennessee Tech entered the game with a team ERA of 5.29, yet limited the Seminoles’ offense to just four singles and allowed a sterling effort from starter Drew Parrish (12 strikeouts, two hits and one run in 7 1/3 innings) to fall by the wayside.
FSU didn’t help its cause by twice running into outs – once after putting runs on first and second with no outs, and once right after Quincy Nieporte singled in the game’s first run.
“Very. Very,” Martin said when asked how disappointed he was to see base-running miscues. “I’m doing my best to suppress that, because that is obviously something that’s not what our program is about.”
What the program is about, Martin believes, is what it showed over those last two weeks.
Given every opportunity to fold and let their season slip away following those losses to Wake Forest – or a series of disappointing setbacks prior to them – the Seminoles didn’t do it.
And on a night when not much went right for Florida State, that’s what has Martin feeling better about tomorrow.
“I think what is the most encouraging thing about being in a position like this is I know the guys,” he said. “They’re hurting. They’re hurting bad right now.
“We were coming off of a big-time high. We’re back down to earth. And we have to just overcome it and get out there tomorrow and battle.”