May 31, 2003
Tallahassee, FL – The second-seeded South Alabama Jaguars (42-17) stunned No. 1 national seed Florida State (51-11-1) in a winner’s bracket game at the 2003 Tallahassee Baseball regional. The victory was the Jaguar’s third over FSU in the last four meetings between the teams. This is the first time since 1998 that USA has won its first two games of a regional and that came before the new Super Regional format.
“I thought that was an outstanding college baseball game that was dominated by pitching early on both sides by Clark Girardeau and Trent Peterson. And it was just tough to get a run,” said South Alabama head coach Steve Kittrell. “Finally we broke loose and jumped on top. Mulhern’s home run really gave us a boost and it was a great game. And then Florida State, we knew they would make a run at us, and they did. I am just thankful that Cole clutched up with a big home run and some other guys had some big singles in that inning to make that happen.”
Cole Craig (Mill Creek, WA) led USA at the plate as the right fielder drove in three runs including the game-winner on a home run in the bottom of the eighth. Jaguar pitchers Clark Girardeau (Mobile, AL) and reliever Bert Heath (Jackson, AL) held the Seminoles at bay most of the afternoon. Girardeau pitched 7.1 innings, struck out four batters, walked seven and allowed four runs, three of which were earned. He held the Seminoles scoreless through five innings. Heath (6-1) closed the game and earned the victory by pitching 1.2 innings, striking out one batter and allowing two runs and one earned run. Daniel Hodges took the loss in relief as his record fell to 5-2.
“That one hurt. South Alabama deserved to win the ballgame, they got it done,” said FSU head coach Mike Martin. “The key to the ballgame was the outstanding job their pitcher did. He was literally dominating. He just did a number on us. We got back into it and he kept making quality pitches.”
The Jaguars scored the game’s first run in the bottom of the third. On top of out hitting No. 1 national seed FSU 6-0 through three innings, USA cashed in with a two-out RBI. Josh Touchstone’s (Pensacola, FL) RBI single plated Craig who drew a one-out walk off FSU starter Trent Peterson (10-1). South Alabama looked to add another run as Jason Gross (Mobile, AL) attempted to score on Adam Lind’s (Anderson, IN) shallow single to right. Florida State junior Blake Balkcom (Chipley, FL) came up gunning and threw out Gross at home to end the inning.
Florida State didn’t record its first hit of the game until the fifth inning when Miami’s Eddy Martinez-Esteve singled to right field off USA starter Girardeau. The junior right-hander from Mobile, AL got into trouble with the next hitter as he walked Chris Hart (Clearwater, FL) on four straight pitches. Girardeau then K’ed his fourth batter of the game for the first out of the fifth and USA then turned a double play as it continued to hang on to its 1-0 lead.
South Alabama touched up Peterson again in the bottom of the fifth as the Jags added two more runs and broke out to a 3-0 lead. USA’s all-time home run leader Ryan Mulhern (Highlands Ranch, CO) sent a shot over the fence in straight away center that traveled over 400 feet. The senior has now hit 19 homers and is only two HRs shy of equaling the single season record at USA. Mulhern is in the midst of a huge weekend as he started the regional going 4 for 5 with three RBIs and three runs scored in the Jags opening round win.
In the top of the sixth, Girardeau walked back-to-back Seminoles to start the inning as FSU looked to get back in the game. With two on and nobody out, Florida State sent its 3-4-5 hitters to the plate. Johnny Bench Award semi-finalist Tony Richie (Jacksonville, FL) cashed in immediately as he singled home a run on the first pitch he saw. That was all Girardeau would allow though as a double play and a ground out ended the Tribe’s threat.
For the third straight inning, FSU put its lead-off hitter on as Martinez-Esteve started an inning with a hit, the second time he had done that in the game. The freshman moved to second on a wild pitch before USA’s Girardeau retired the next two hitters. The junior once again worked his way out of a jam as the game moved into the home half of the seventh.
Peterson started the seventh and recorded the first out of the inning before giving way to Rhett James (Pensacola, FL). Peterson ended the day going 6.1 innings, with nine strike outs and just two walks. He allowed nine hits and all three of his runs were earned.
With just five outs remaining before top-seeded FSU fell into the loser’s bracket, the Seminoles mounted another comeback bid as they put two runners on and brought the potential go-ahead run to the plate. Girardeau walked the bases loaded bringing up Martinez-Esteve who was already 2 for 3 on the day. Before the Miami native could even lift the bat off his shoulder, a balk was called plating the Tribe’s second run of the game. The run didn’t stand though as USA head coach Steve Kittrell came out to argue the call and all the runners were returned to their previous base. Kittrell then went to his bullpen in hopes of ending the Seminole rally as junior Heath entered the game. After a 25 minute delay that cleared the field as the umpires consulted the rule book, FSU made its move scoring four runs without the ball leaving the infield. It started with a bases loaded walk and then an infield error allowed two more Seminoles to score. The Tribe then added to the lead on a successful suicide squeeze that put FSU in front 5-3.
South Alabama put the pressure back on the Tribe immediately in the bottom of the frame as reliever Daniel Hodges (Hillard, FL) gave up back-to-back singles and a walk to load the bases with no outs. After striking out the next hitter, senior Brett Parker (Mobile, AL) closed the gap with an RBI single to right field as USA moved within a run at 5-4. The Jaguar’s next hitter then tied the game as T.J. Touchstone’s fielder’s choice plated Adam Lind. That opened the door for Craig’s heroics as the senior belted a three run homer over the wall in left and into the USA bullpen as the game moved into the final inning with the Jags back in front 8-5.
In its last at bat, Florida State once again fought back. After a lead-off walk, Jerrod Brown (Auburndale, FL) laced an RBI double off the screen in right center to cut the USA lead down to 8-6. Heath got the next hitter and then finished off the improbable win with a strike out.
The Seminoles now must try to stave off elimination tonight as they face the Scarlet Knights. Rutgers defeated Jacksonville earlier in the day to stay alive in the double elimination regional. Florida State and Rutgers have met just one time and FSU won that game played in 1966. The last time FSU lost a regional game was 2000 and FSU came back through the loser’s bracket and eventually wound up in the College World Series.