TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – In an honest moment, Mike Martin might admit he didn’t expect to be here on Monday afternoon.
“Here” meaning at home, with an ACC tournament title and six-game winning streak in tow, and an NCAA regional coming to Tallahassee this weekend.
Not bad for a team that, just two weeks ago, was thought by some pundits to be no sure thing for the tournament itself, much less have any shot to host a regional.
But after their remarkable, late-season surge, the Seminoles learned Sunday night that they’ll be home this weekend after all. Top-seeded FSU (39-20) will meet No. 4-seed Tennessee Tech (40-19) Friday at 6 p.m. No. 2 UCF (40-20) and No. 3 Auburn (35-24) play at noon.
“It’s baseball,” Martin said. “To accomplish what we have is certainly one of the biggest deals since I’ve been coaching here.”
Here’s what they accomplished in the two weeks following a Sunday home loss to Wake Forest, after which Martin sighed, “We ain’t getting a regional”:
Two victories at then-No. 2 Louisville, which hadn’t lost a home series against an ACC opponent since joining the league three years ago
An extra-innings thriller of a victory against Notre Dame in their first game of the ACC tournament, a win punctuated by Jackson Lueck’s walk-off home run in the bottom of the 12th inning
Another win over Louisville, this time in the second round of the conference tournament
A triumph over Duke in the ACC semifinal, in which sophomore starter Cole Sands had maybe his finest outing of the season. (6 2/3 innings, 8 strikeouts, 2 hits, 0 earned runs)
Finally, a come-from-behind victory over No. 2 North Carolina in Sunday’s ACC title game. It marked FSU’s second league crown in the last three seasons.
Nothing like four wins over two of the NCAA tournament committee’s national seeds (UNC is No. 2, Louisville No. 7) to right the ship.
“To find ourselves here now, it’s crazy to think of,” sophomore pitcher Tyler Holton said. “But we knew we had it in us. … We realized, hey, we can do this if you take one game at a time.”
Even after winning the tournament, the Seminoles weren’t quite a lock to host a regional. That news didn’t come until a few hours later – once the team had landed in Tallahassee after 12 days in Louisville – when the NCAA announced its 16 regional sites via a selection show on Facebook Live.
By then, the team had scattered to go home. But Martin has no doubt about the type of cheer his players let out when “Tallahassee” flashed on the screen.
“I still don’t think we all really thought there was a chance we could come back and host,” senior Quincy Nieporte said. “But all the pieces of the puzzle fell together and we’re back.”
Speaking of “back,” the Seminoles are back in the NCAA tournament for the 40thstraight season, a number that bears extra significance this year.
For the previous 39 years, FSU’s tournament streak has been second to at least one team: the Miami Hurricanes. But, despite a late-season surge, Miami’s tournament bubble burst on Monday and ended a 44-year run.
Which means the nation’s longest active streak now lives in Tallahassee.
Martin and his players each credited the other for helping to sustain the program’s remarkable consistency.
“That speaks to Mike Martin and what he’s done here,” Holton said. “Whenever you come to Florida State or hear about Florida State and their baseball program, you know it’s a great program.”
Added Martin: “It’s an accomplishment for our players and it certainly makes me, as a Seminole, very proud.”