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FSU/UF both win in Super Regional walk-offs

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Almost everything that could go wrong was going wrong for the Florida State Seminoles in Saturday’s first game of their Super Regional series against the Sam Houston State Bearkats. They had early fielding bunts, hit a batter with the bases load, hit into a triple play and was picked off second to end a big rally.

Despite the adversity and trailing throughout the entire game, Florida State hung in, clawed back and eventually escaped with a 7-6 walk-off victory. It was a game they likely would not have won a month ago.

Coming into the game, FSU was well aware that Sam Houston State uses the bunt as a significant part of their offense.

“If they bunt it,” sophomore catcher Cal Raleigh assured, “we’ll field it, we’ll throw it to first base and we’ll get them out.”

Despite knowing what was coming, the Seminoles twice misplayed, gave up a bunt single or were victimized by a suicide squeeze on the first four bunts put into play. Heading into the third inning, Florida State trailed 5-1.

Starting pitcher Tyler Holton muffed the Bearkats’ first bunt of the day, which paved the way for a three-run first inning, helped along when Holton hit Jaxxson Grisham with the bases loaded. The next three Sam Houston bunts produced two singles and a suicide squeeze, leading to a 5-1 deficit for Florida State heading to the bottom of the third.

From this point, Holton gathered himself, as did the rest of the Seminoles.

In the third, Florida State had a run in with runners on first and second with none out and trailing 5-2.  Quincy Nieporte grounded into a third-to-second-to first triple play, snuffing out a promising rally. After SHSU stretched the lead to 6-3 in the seventh, the Seminoles made two quiet outs in the bottom of the seventh.

At that point, shortstop Taylor Walls attempted FSU’s only bunt of the day, but he beat it out for a hit. After a walk and run-scoring singles by Jackson Lueck, Nieporte and Raleigh, the game was tied 6-6. The inning ended when Nieporte was picked off second base.

While the bullpen duo of Chase Haney and Drew Carlton shut down the Bearkats the rest of the way, the Seminoles made quick work Bearkats’ closer Nick Mikolajchak in the ninth. Walls singled leading off and Busby was hit by a pitch. Lueck then sent the home crowd home happy with a drive into the right-center field gap that sent Walls home with the winning run.

“I’d tell you one thing, we’ve got 27 guys that won’t back down,” said FSU Coach Mike Martin. “They won’t look at each other like ‘what the heck is going on?’ They will just battle.”

The victory puts Florida State one win away from a place in next week’s College World Series. The two teams meet on Sunday and a third game, if necessary, will be played Monday.

The odds favor FSU advancing. Since the Super Regionals became part of the NCAA Tournament, the team winning the first game goes on to win the series 78 percent of the time.

In Gainesville, the Florida Gators beat the Wake Forest Demon Deacons 2-1 in 11 innings to take a 1-0 lead. Senior Ryan Larson singled up the middle with the bases loaded and two outs to send home the winning run.

The Gators were looking good in the top of the ninth, leading 1-0 with closer Michael Byrne on the mound. Deacons catcher Ben Breazeale led off the inning with a homer to tie the game.

Florida loaded the bases in the 11th without benefit of a hit. Wake Forest closer Griffin Roberts walked Jonathan India and hit JJ Schwarz and Nelson Maldonado. After a strike out, Larson delivered the Gators’ first walk-off win this season.

The game was delayed in the fourth inning for almost four hours due to rain.

Game 2 is Sunday and a third, if necessary, will be played Monday

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Bob Sparks is President of Ramos and Sparks Group, a Tallahassee-based business and political consulting firm. During his career, he has directed media relations and managed events for professional baseball, served as chief spokesperson for the Republican Party of Florida as well as the Florida Department of Environmental Protection and the Attorney General of Florida. After serving as Executive Deputy Chief of Staff for Governor Charlie Crist, he returned to the private sector working with clients including the Republican National Committee and political candidates in Japan. He lives in Tallahassee with his wife, Sue and can be reached at Bob@ramos-sparks.com.

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