OMAHA, Neb. – Officially, the Florida State baseball team will play its first elimination game of the postseason on Wednesday night at the College World Series.
Unofficially, the Seminoles feel like they’ve been playing elimination games for the last month or so – at least since they entered the ACC tournament unsure of their place in the NCAA tournament.
So, despite seeing their seven-game winning streak come to an end, and despite the fact that a loss to Texas Tech on Wednesday (7 p.m., ESPN) would mean the end of their championship dreams, the Seminoles aren’t pressing any panic buttons.
They’re already plenty used to this feeling.
“I think we’ve had our backs up against the wall, even in a lot of worse situations than the one we’re in now, throughout the year. A lot of people didn’t even think we’d be where we’re at now. Hopefully we can keep proving people wrong.”
Two months ago, it would have been hard to predict that a Florida State team in the midst of a 7-13 stretch would finish its season here in Omaha.
But the Seminoles rallied to win nine of their next 10 games – including three straight over Clemson – to get their heads above water.
One month ago, it would have been hard to predict that the Seminoles would be one of the last four teams to make the NCAA field, then hammer No. 4 national seed Georgia in a regional and sweep No. 16 seed LSU in back-to-back weeks.
Or, for that matter, that they’d squeeze out a 1-0 win over Arkansas – one of the tournament’s favorites – in their CWS opener.
“I think this team is more battle-tested than any team here,” third baseman Drew Mendoza said. “We’ve played with our backs against the wall, when I think that a lot of these other teams haven’t.
“So, hopefully, we can bring that mentality Wednesday.”
FSU’s next opponent, Texas Tech, rode a 40-win season into a No. 8 national seed, and the Red Raiders made quick work of their regional field.
They have, however, since played in two elimination games – one against Oklahoma State in last week’s Lubbock, Texas, Super Regional, and another against Arkansas in the CWS on Monday.
So the Red Raiders have shown a penchant for staying alive.
“We really hadn’t been in that position throughout the year,” Texas Tech coach Tim Tadlock said. “We just kind of had a hunch after the other day that these guys, they’re going to be fun to watch with their backs against the wall. They like playing baseball, and they like preparing.”
Texas Tech has one of the nation’s better offenses and one of its best players.
The Red Raiders rank 14th nationally in runs per game (7.7), 12th in on-base percentage (.406) and 17th in team batting average (.301). And despite hitting a pedestrian 57 home runs for the season, Texas Tech did hit three homers in Monday’s win over Arkansas.
Both numbers are due to the power-hitting combo of Cameron Warren (18 home runs) and Josh Jung (15), each of whom went yard against the Razorbacks.
Jung, the co-Big 12 player of the year, was recently picked eighth overall by the Texas Rangers in the MLB amateur draft.
Grady to make CWS debut: Martin confirmed Thursday night that sophomore Conor Grady, FSU’s No. 3 starter for much of the season, will pitch on Wednesday.
Grady, a 6-2, 187-pound right-hander, is 9-5 this season with a 3.64 ERA.
“I’m not going to let the game get to me,” Grady said. “I’m just going to go out there and do what I know I have to do for the team, make some pitches and let everybody else do what they have to do.”
While Grady has ridden some ups and downs this season, some of his best performances have come against some FSU’s top competition.
After a breakthrough performance against Florida in a midweek game (7 IP, 9Ks, 2H, 1R), Grady came out of the bullpen for another strong outing against Clemson (5 1/3 IP, 11 Ks, 1H, 0R).
And, in his most recent outing, Grady dominated to the tune of six hits and one run in seven innings of what would be FSU’s regional-clinching victory at Georgia.
“We have a bunch of confidence in Conor,” FSU center fielder J.C. Flowers said. “He knows how to control three pitches well, and we’ll play good defense behind him and hopefully we’ll get him some runs.”
Noles visit Children’s Hospital in Omaha: For at least a little while on Tuesday morning, the Seminoles forgot about the pressures of baseball and gave something back to the Omaha community that has so warmly embraced them over the last week.
After the team’s breakfast, the players and coaches loaded up the bus and headed to Children’s Hospital and Medical Center, where they spent about an hour popping in and out of rooms to greet and interact with young patients.
Highlights included magic card tricks with senior pitcher Gage Hutchinson, a soccer-star chat with Flowers (“Who ya got? Messi or Ronaldo?”) and one show-stealing therapy dog named Sansa.
— FSU Baseball (@FSUBaseball) June 18, 2019
The trip had extra significance for Martin, who, along with his wife, Carol, has donated extensive time and resources to the Tallahassee Memorial Children’s Center and Newborn Intensive Care Unit.
In 2015, TMH’s Children’s Center Playroom was named “The Mike Martin Family Playroom” in honor of his and Carol’s support.
“It’s such a meaningful, memorable experience for our young men,” Martin said of the hospital visit. “I can’t tell you how proud I am of the way that they conducted themselves and really brought smiles to the youngsters. It just reinforces how proud Carol and I are of our involvement with Tallahassee Memorial.”