February 24, 2011 - by
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Feb. 24, 2011

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CLEARWATER, Fla. – It was a perfect afternoon for baseball and the Florida State Seminoles soaked it up.

Under blue skies at Bright House Networks Field, 3,915 fans and the Seminoles helped usher in the start of the Grapefruit League season against the defending NL East Champion Philadelphia Phillies.

For the Seminoles, the outcome – an 8-0 exhibition game victory by the Phillies – wasn’t nearly as important as the experience.

The Seminoles arrived at the park three hours before the first pitch; just in time to watch Ryan Howard, Chase Utley, Shane Victorino and the rest of the Phillies to take batting practice. From that point on, the fun never stopped.

Sherman Johnson collected the game’s first hit, a bloop single that sliding Philadelphia right fielder and heralded prospect Domonic Brown could not hang on to. Suddenly Johnson found himself standing alongside Phillies’ slugger and perennial All-Star first baseman Ryan Howard.

“He [Howard] was like, `What’s up man? How’s it going? Why don’t you try to steal first pitch here,'” Johnson said, laughing as he recalled their encounter at first. “He was joking around. They’re all kids just like us, just bigger, stronger and they have a lot more money.”

The bigger, stronger Phillies didn’t waste any time seizing control of the game with a four-run first against FSU senior starter Tyler Everett, the first of eight Seminole pitchers – almost exclusively relievers – to work one inning each. The Phillies added two runs in the sixth and two more in the seventh to finish off their scoring.

Sophomore right-hander Robert Benincasa relieved Everett and held the top of the Phillies’ order scoreless, including a strikeout of No. 2 batter Placido Polanco, one of the toughest batters to strike out in baseball.

“It was pretty much unbelievable,” said Benincasa. “My adrenaline was pumping so hard, I was pretty much exhausted before I threw the first pitch. As I got going I was trying to live off it as much as I can because I knew I was only throwing an inning. I was trying to enjoy the experience as much as I can – pitch and get outs.”

The Seminoles recorded several outs in impressive fashion during a three-inning stretch, beginning with first baseman Jayce Boyd’s diving stab of a sharp grounder that denied Brown an third inning single. It was part of a 1-2-3 inning by FSU junior pitcher Mack Waugh.

“It was a great thrill,” said Waugh. “I wasn’t quite as nervous as my first outing last Friday night, but it was a lot of fun. – definitely a first-time experience for me and something I’ll never forget.”

Left-handed FSU reliever Tye Buckley, the beneficiary of a 4-6-3 double play, helped the Seminoles escape the fourth inning, but the highlight play came with the next out recorded by Mike Martin’s club.

Sophomore Seth Miller, who a year ago was playing junior college baseball at Northwest Florida State, has already made several impressive plays in the outfield for the Seminoles this season. He added to that resume by denying Philadelphia’s Jeff Larish an extra base hit, laying out to snare his line drive as it tailed away in left field.

“It was a thrill,” Miller said of the grab. “I got a good jump on the ball – a good read on it – and the rest just happened.”

Miller was still pinching himself in the clubhouse after the game.

“I’ve never played Big League players,” he added. “I honestly feel like I shouldn’t be playing against them; I should be watching. I felt like I should be in the stands.”

Florida State’s offensive highlights were limited by a Phillies staff that rang up 11 strikeouts. The Seminoles best scoring opportunity came in the fourth inning when Mike McGee looped a single over third, James Ramsey reached on an error Boyd lifted a long fly ball to right to put runners at first and third.

Justin Gonzalez sharply lined a single to left in the fifth and Sean Gilmartin contributed a pinch-hit single an inning later to wrap up FSU’s hits on the day. Gonzalez, however, still took some memories and a keepsake from the game, courtesy John Mayberry, Jr.

“John Mayberry Jr. is a great guy,” said Gonzalez, who knows Mayberry through a high friend. “He called me over after the game and said, `Hey, I’ve got something for you.'”

Gonzalez was still smiling after the game while admiring the personalized piece of timber. Across the locker room, freshman left-hander Brandon Johnson was beaming after contributing a 1-2-3 inning that included a pair of strikeouts.

“That was awesome,” said Johnson, who has yet to play in his first college game. “It was like no experience I’ve ever felt. Right after I got the third out, I couldn’t stop smiling walking off the field.”

The final score aside, the smiles accurately summed up the Seminoles’ experience.

The eighth-ranked Seminoles return home to begin a three-game series against Hofstra, Friday at 4 p.m.

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