OMAHA, Neb. – Entering Monday’s College World Series game against Cal State Fullerton, the Florida State baseball team had drawn 1,785 walks over the last five seasons – the most of any team in the country during that spa The three walks that the Seminoles added against the Titans in the top of the seventh may have been bigger than any of them.
With FSU trailing by a run and fighting to extend its season after a stunning turn of events in the previous inning, the Seminoles drew three straight walks – two with the bases loaded – to plate the tying and go-ahead runs in a 6-4 victory over the Titans at TD Ameritrade Park.
FSU will meet either LSU in another elimination game Wednesday at 7 p.m.
“We had some very good at-bats,” Seminoles coach Mike Martin said. “…We’ve drilled an awful lot on that phase of the game.”
All those hours spent practicing pitch recognition and plate discipline paid off on Monday, when the Seminoles worked eight free passes from Cal State Fullerton pitchers to bring their season total to 393 – the most in the nation and the most by an FSU team since 2010.
Those walks, combined with seven hits and one hit-by-pitch, gave the Seminoles a team on-base percentage of .400.
“Eight walks,” freshman Drew Mendoza said, “like, I don’t think anybody on our team sees that as very much.”
Fullerton might beg to differ.
Brandishing their patient approach, the Seminoles put constant pressure on the Titans’ pitching staff and, through five and a half innings, held a 3-1 lead that might have felt bigger than it was.
But an inning later, they didn’t lead at all.
Freshman starter Drew Parrish, who entered the bottom of the sixth having retired eight straight hitters, ran into trouble when the Fullerton lineup turned over a second time.
After Parrish got a groundout to start the frame, leadoff man Scott Hurst squeezed a bouncer between FSU’s Mendoza and Matt Henderson to give the Titans their first base-runner since the third inning.
Hurst moved to second on another groundout, and No. 3 hitter Dillon Persinger brought him home with a first-pitch, RBI double that bounced out of the glove of a diving J.C. Flowers.
Two pitches later, Fullerton shortstop Timmy Richards lined a two-run home run into the bleachers in left field, dealing FSU a stunning deficit and leaving Seminoles fans shaking their heads at their latest misfortunates in Omaha.
Richards came into the CWS with just four home runs on the season, but his homer on Monday was his second of the tournament.
“You get up,” Persinger said, “(And after that), we wanted a shut-down inning to get the momentum on our side.”
Instead, what followed was perhaps the most remarkable inning of Florida State’s season.
And, another inch or two in a different direction, it might never have gotten off the ground.
Taylor Walls led off with an infield single, one in which Richards made a beautiful diving stop but couldn’t make the throw to first in time.
Busby then followed with a hard-hit double that Fullerton left fielder Chris Prescott tracked to the wall but couldn’t catch.
So what might have been two outs in another game instead turned into runners on second and third, with no outs and FSU’s Nos. 3, 4 and 5 hitters due up.
“I like to be on the (good) break side of it,” Busby said. “On the ones you hit hard, you take the result because the ultimate goal is to hit it hard. If you make an out, you make an out. If you hit it hard, you did what you were supposed to do.”
Fullerton coach Rick Vanderhook then intentionally walked Jackson Lueck to load the bases and create more potential force outs.
Given the situation – bases loaded, no outs and still a one-run deficit – it might have been easy for FSU’s Quincy Nieporte (who, oh bythe way, leads the nation in grand slams) to get overly aggressive.
But he didn’t.
After fouling off a pair of fastballs to fall behind 1-2, Nieporte kept his bat on his shoulder and worked the count full. And in a spot where most pitchers might play it safe and throw a fastball, Fullerton’s Blake Workman instead threw a curve.
It missed low, Nieporte laid off and the game was tied.
“My adrenaline was going and I was excited to (try to) do something big, but at the same time, I’m a senior and I know you can’t try to force it,” Nieporte said. “I just stayed calm and trusted myself and it worked out.”
The Seminoles reclaimed the lead one batter later, when catcher Cal Raleighrallied from another 1-2 count to earn FSU’s third straight walk and a 5-4 advantage.
Vanderhook then went back to his bullpen but it was too late.
Second baseman Matt Henderson singled home another run before the inning ended on a double play, and Fullerton managed to put just one runner in scoring position over the next three innings.
“We just stayed with what we’ve been doing all year,” Raleigh said. “Staying patient at the plate and waiting for a great pitch to hit.”
Or, just as often, great pitches to take.