TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – As he made his way to his media conference, just moments after learning that his Florida State Seminoles had earned a No. 7 national seed in the NCAA tournament, Mike Martin stopped for a moment, smiled and said, “It’s a fun time of year.”
It’s been especially fun lately.
For the second consecutive season, the Seminoles used a furious run to an ACC tournament championship as a springboard into regional play.
Last year, winning the league crown vaulted FSU into position to host a regional, and the Seminoles ended their season at the College World Series.
This time around, FSU ripped through Virginia, North Carolina State, Clemson and Louisville for back-to-back league titles, as well as the guarantee that its road to Omaha will run exclusively through Tallahassee.
FSU, the top seed in the NCAA Tallahassee Regional, will host fourth-seeded Samford on Friday at 7 p.m. No. 2-seed Mississippi State will meet No. 3 Oklahoma at noon.
Noles earn No. 7 national seed. Will host Regionals and potentially Super Regionals. Paired with No. 10 Clemson, could set up an All-ACC Super. pic.twitter.com/tt4ovrAkj6
— Tim Linafelt / FSU (@Tim_Linafelt) May 28, 2018
“It’s a very challenging regional, as we have been faced with challenging regionals,” Martin said. “Anybody can beat anybody.”
Martin used a pair of recent examples – Florida State’s first-game losses against Tennessee Tech last year and Bucknell in 2008 – to make his point.
Still, no one could blame the Seminoles if they were feeling confident heading into this weekend.
It’s not just that they’re 10-1 in their last 11 games, it’s who they’ve beaten and how they’ve beaten them.
That stretch includes five wins over ranked teams, four in extra innings and three via walk-off.
And given that the Seminoles are paired with the Clemson Regional, and would host the Tigers in the Super Regional if they each advance, it doesn’t hurt that they bested Clemson on the way to that ACC tournament title last week.
“Momentum is huge in the game of baseball,” sophomore starter Drew Parrish said. “It’s a tough thing to keep, but, if you’ve got it at the right time, it really encourages everyone, boosts everyone’s confidence on the mound or at the plate and everyone seems to be clicking at the right time.”
Indeed, Parrish has led the charge. Not only does he have a 5-0 record and 2.47 ERA, but he’s been even better in the run-up to the postseason. Parrish has gone at least seven innings in each of his last three starts, combined to strike out 35 batters and surrendered only six earned runs.
And the highlight of that run came last weekend, when Parrish shut down No. 8 NC State to the tune of 14 strikeouts, five hits and two runs in a 120-pitch, complete-game victory.
“I’m feeling better with all three of my pitches,” Parrish said. “I feel like my command is getting a little better with my curveball and changeup. Just trusting [pitching] coach [Mike] Bell and [catcher] Cal [Raleigh] and understanding that I don’t have to be perfect.”
Speaking of Raleigh, the junior has more than done his part at the plate in recent weeks.
Dating back to the Seminoles’ home finale against Miami on April 29, Raleigh has launched a 15-game hit streak, boosted his batting average by nearly .050 points (from .283 to .330), hit seven of his 13 total homers and driven in 22 runs.
And, like Parrish, Raleigh found an extra gear last week in Durham with six hits (four for extra bases) and six RBIs in four games.
Martin, of course, is pleased to see Raleigh’s success. But he took even more encouragement from one of the rare occasions last week when Raleigh didn’t come through.
It happened during Sunday’s ACC championship game with FSU and Louisville tied, 8-8, in the top of the 10th inning. A lead-off walk followed by a base hit brought Raleigh to the plate with a chance to push FSU in front.
“(Runners on first and second), nobody out, Cal Raleigh at the plate,” Martin said. “Everybody on the bench, everybody in the stands expected something big. And so did he.
“And he punched out.”
It was how Raleigh responded afterward that impressed Martin the most. (And it helped that Drew Mendoza hit a two-run double a few moments later.)
“Now, he is not happy,” Martin continued. “But he didn’t come back to the bench and pout, throw helmets. … And then – golly, guys it just makes me feel so good to have a guy like that as a leader of your team – he stops the pitcher after one step as they’re going out to play that inning, pats him on the back, says, ‘You know where you are in the lineup, let’s go ‘Big Guy.’ Not any of this frowning stuff, ‘Woe is me, I didn’t come through.’ …
“That’s what really shows me that he has ‘it,’ up and down. He is a special person.”