Reese Albert knew Georgia would be playing with emotion, especially with their season on the line.
After all, his Seminoles had just pummeled the Bulldogs the night before and the home crowd was eager to send the regional to a deciding Game 7.
The sophomore quickly drove a dagger through the hearts of the red and black faithful, a towering two-run blast to left field that gave the Seminoles a lead they would never relinquish.
“I knew if we could get something early it would help keep us locked in,” Albert said of his early homer. “We had a lot of fans here this weekend, which I can’t explain how much that meant to us. I just wanted to pump them up and set the energy for the game.”
The rest of the lineup followed with a 10-hit performance on a weekend where the Seminoles’ offensive attack refused to be stymied.
For Albert it’s been a tough road back to the batting order as he’s dealt with numerous injuries that’s kept him out of 19 games so far this season. A finger injury, followed by a nagging shoulder ailment has made finding a rhythm at the plate tough for the outfielder in 2019. His loss was felt throughout a young FSU lineup that started four freshman for much of the year.
“Some of the younger guys struggled but we’re a young team,” Albert said.
“We’re putting the pieces together now and I think we’ll be a tough out the rest of the way.”
Albert rehabbed his shoulder every day, spending countless hours working with FSU’s training staff, particularly with athletic trainer Brandon Stone and strength coach Jamie Burleson, to get stronger. His insertion back into the everyday lineup came against Virginia on April 18 in Charlottesville.
His impact was immediate as he recorded a base hit, two runs batted in, and scored three runs in his first game back as the Seminoles won 14-2.
The sophomore has hit over .300 in the wake of his return, relieving pressure from the top of the FSU lineup.
“We call ourselves the 1-2 punch, he’s just a strong bat in the lineup. You could just see the difference when he was in the order and when he wasn’t,” Mike Salvatore said.
“He’s a spark plug getting that momentum for us like tonight and powering us through. We all just kind of climbed through the weekend with him.”
Salvatore in particular has thrived at the top of the lineup with Albert protecting him at the No. 2 spot. The senior is now hitting . 341 on the year, including .478 (22-46) in his last 10 games.
During the Athens Regional this weekend, Albert finished the three games batting .429 (6 of 14) with two home runs and five runs knocked in.
As Georgia batted through their order the first time, Conor Grady had a feeling he could have success against the Bulldog’s lineup.
After a few adjustments and an emphasis on his off-speed pitches the rest of the night, the sophomore dazzled through a career-high seven innings of work.
“I felt like I had a better feel for my pitches the second time through their lineup when I could get a read on their approach and swings,” Grady said following the game. “I definitely feel like I was able to settle down and let my defense work behind me.”
“Grady was really good for them and he had all his pitches working against us,” UGA coach Scott Stricklin said. “Florida State received three tremendous performances this weekend from their (pitching) staff.”
The slider was an effective pitch for Grady, who entered the FSU weekend rotation late in the year after strong performances against Florida and Clemson. He continually kept the UGA hitters off-balance, guessing at his every toss. It allowed his fastball to “play up” inducing many ground balls to a defense that was as strong behind him as he was on the mound.
“I knew I was going to have to make some pitches,” Grady said. “The early lead was huge for us. I didn’t want to be too nitpicky and just wanted to make them put the bat on the ball.”
“He was throwing it really well and had us off balance all game,” UGA first baseman John Cable said of Grady. “He was throwing every pitch he had for a strike. At the end of the day, he pitched better than we hit.”
Grady’s emergence could be a key for the Seminoles as they head to Baton Rouge next weekend with a trip to Omaha on the line. A tough environment awaits at Alex Box Stadium, but FSU proved this weekend that when they are locked in, they can beat any opponent on any field.
“That’s not a No. 3 seed, they were outstanding,” Stricklin said.
“The team that played this weekend was one of the best teams in the country.”