WATCH: Baseball readies for Baton Rouge Super Regional
BATON ROUGE, La. – In a sense, the Florida State and LSU baseball teams are each where they expect to be at this time of year: In an NCAA Super Regional, needing just two wins to reach the College World Series in Omaha, Neb.
Go figure that neither the Seminoles nor the Tigers took their usual routes to get here.
In fact, as one reporter pointed out to FSU coach Mike Martin following his team’s Friday practice at Alex Box Stadium, a matchup between the two college baseball heavyweights seems more suited for Omaha than Tallahassee or Baton Rouge.
Both teams even spent time as the No. 1-ranked team in the country earlier this season.
“I’m sure that both us of did not think that this would happen,” Martin said. “Because so much had to happen for this to occur.”
The Seminoles had to navigate the ups and downs that come with a young team, had to rally from a 19-13 midseason record and had to sweat out an NCAA tournament selection show during which they were revealed to be among the last four teams to make the field.
Then, they had to go win a four-team regional in Athens, Ga., that featured a No. 4 national seed in Georgia.
That the Seminoles did so in such emphatic fashion – they beat Georgia twice by a combined score of 22-4 – is perhaps the biggest reason that several national outlets, including Sports Illustrated and NCAA.com, have predicted FSU to win in Baton Rouge.
“Our young men worked to get better,” Martin said. “And they achieved that.”
The Tigers can relate.
Ranked No. 1 at the beginning of the season, LSU went through a rash of injuries and inconsistency and, were it not for a late surge at the SEC tournament, might have been on the road for regionals.
Instead, the Tigers have won six of their last eight and were perfect in sweeping through their regional field last week.
“You can just never predict how things are going to happen,” said LSU coach Paul Mainieri, a longtime friend of Martin’s.
“A lot of people did not think Florida State would be in the postseason. I am sure there were a lot of people wondering what was going to happen with LSU.
“One of the two teams has to go to Omaha.”
For Florida State, the road to Omaha is on the road, and in one of college baseball’s most famous venues.
FSU hasn’t played at LSU since 1983, and the Tigers’ Alex Box Stadium was completely rebuilt and replaced in 2009.
The field – named after former LSU coach Skip Bertman – is modeled after the one at Rosenblatt Stadium in Omaha, and the surrounding concourse and grandstands are littered with evidence of the Tigers’ baseball achievements.
It was more than enough to grab Martin’s attention as the Seminoles practiced on Friday afternoon.
“I’ve got to be very honest with you,” he said with a smile. “When I walked in this place today, it felt like Gomer Pyle – ‘Goooooooolly.’
“Because it was absolutely beautiful. … This is a gorgeous place to play baseball.”
The Tigers, meanwhile, will have to go through Martin.
FSU fans have been aware of the 40-year coach’s pending retirement for nearly a year, but with the end of the season approaching, the rest of the nation is starting to take notice.
Martin doesn’t have much interest in being a sentimental favorite – he quickly reminded reporters Friday that he’d rather the focus be on his players – but he’ll likely be one anyway.
Not that he’d notice from the visitors’ dugout, surrounded by 12,000 LSU fans.
“I think everybody knows how I feel about Mike Martin,” Mainieri said. “He is one of the true legends in my business.
“Obviously, he has had a career for the ages. He is the winningest coach of any sport in the history of the NCAA. I told him today that it is an honor for me to be on the other side of the field.”
Martin, for his part, sees similarities when he looks to the opposing dugout.
A team led by a coach that he respects, that had to overcome midseason adversity, and that has since turned things around.
And now the Tigers find themselves exactly where they always expect to be at this time of year. Just like the Seminoles.
“You’ve got to have the right guys,” Martin said. “And both of these programs have the right guys.
“They’re where they are because of the determination of the young men that are involved in the program. There was no feeling sorry for themselves at any time on these two clubs. They both just kept working and got it done.”