May 10, 2011
By Bob Thomas, Seminoles.com
DELAND, Fla. – Florida State senior Stuart Tapley rejoined his teammates Tuesday night at Stetson’s Melching Field at Conrad Park, two weeks after his father suffered a stroke back home in Orlando.
Tapley, a team captain the long-established emotional leader of the sixth-ranked Seminoles, was greeted by hugs and handshakes when he arrived at the park. It was a scene that was repeated again in the seventh inning, when Tapley’s two-run single to left triggered FSU’s runaway 13-1 victory over the 14th ranked Hatters.
“I’ve had a rough couple of weeks,” said Tapley, who has been tending to his father’s affairs. “I got a chance to spend some quality time with guys I’ll talk to the rest of my life. … I really needed to get away from everything, spend some time here and run around the ball field.”
It was Tapley’s first appearance in uniform since April 24 against Duke. A day later, he rushed home to be with his father after completing his last final examination and has been tending to his affairs since.
“I really wasn’t expecting to play because I was out for two weeks,” said Tapley, who replaced Seth Miller as the DH in the fifth. “I was happy to get the call.”
Tapley matched his season-high with three RBI, drawing a run-scoring walk in Florida State’s five-run eighth. The entire Seminole roster was outside the dugout to greet Tapley when he was replaced by pinch-runner Robby Stahl.
This was an important victory for FSU coach Mike Martin’s club, which is vying for one of eight NCAA postseason national seeds. The Seminoles carried a No. 6 NCAA RPI ranking into the game, and beating a Stetson team with an NCAA RPI of No. 12 didn’t hurt.
“I was ecstatic,” Martin said. “I was very excited that we came down here with a team that was rated 12th in the country in the RPI. It was a good win for us.”
Still, it wasn’t easy. Not only did the Seminoles (37-12) have to take on an opponent with a similar desire to post a critical win, but they had to do it without leadoff batter and second baseman Devon Travis, who sprained an ankle during infield. A standing-room-only crowd of 2,815 also factored into the press-packed game.
“This was a big win under those conditions,” said Martin, who moved Sherman Johnson to second and Rafael Lopez from catcher to third, and into the leadoff spot. “It was a shock when I’m sitting there in infield and I see the second baseman sprain his ankle and I know he’s done. I don’t know how long he’s done.”
Despite the runaway outcome, the game unfolded as a pitching duel between FSU sophomore Robert Benincasa and Stetson’s Robbie Powell, both of whom were making their first starts of the season. Benincasa (2-0) earned the win with five solid innings, limiting the Hatters (37-11) to five hits and a single run.
Brian Busch relieved Benincasa in the sixth and pitched out of a jamming, striking out the final two batters with Hatters at second and third base in a 3-1 game.
“It was a big, big lift for us for Boomer to go out and pitch as well as he did,” Martin said.
The Seminoles broke the game open with a four-run seventh on Tapley’s two-run single up the middle and Lopez’s fourth homer of the season – a two-run shot to right field. Any doubt about the outcome was put to rest in the eighth when FSU parlayed three hits and a bases-clearing throwing error into a five-run frame for a 12-1 lead.
While elated with the outcome, Martin was genuinely happy to see Tapley back in the dugout.
“It was big for him to be back with his friends, his teammates,” Martin said. “This is his extended family. He’s our captain and he’s just a big part of our program and he has been for four years. It was big for everybody.”
If only for a night, at least at the moment, Tapley was glad to be back as well.
“You take for granted this game until you’ve been away from it for a couple weeks,” Tapley said. “There’s nothing like it, spending time with some of your best buds and great coaches. I’d never wish it on anybody to be in my situation, but I’ll tell you, this was fun tonight, coming out to play a big baseball game and get the support of the guys.
“We’re a family here. When one thing happens to one guy, it happens to us all. [The warm greeting from teammates] doesn’t surprise me. That’s just the genuine guys we have on this team.”