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Florida, Florida State on the winning end of baseball’s June Madness

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The NCAA College Baseball Tournament is not likely to come anywhere near the broad popularity enjoyed by the basketball tournament known as March Madness. At the same time, referring to this year’s baseball extravaganza as June Madness would not be overstating what has taken place so far.

Both Florida and Florida State have provided significant contributions to this year’s mayhem, which saw nearly half of the 16 seeded teams and regional hosts go down to defeat. Number two national seed North Carolina lost twice to huge underdog Davidson.

That is almost like a 15-seed beating a two-seed in basketball. It would also be the overnight buzz of ESPN SportsCenter.

The 5th national seed, Texas Tech, was shocked by Sam Houston State and the 8th-seeded Stanford Cardinal also went down, losing to Cal State Fullerton.

Four others, including the Gators and Seminoles, had to bounce back from losses. Wake Forest, Louisville, LSU, TCU and Oregon State all swept their regionals in three games.

No team among the 64 tournament teams had to climb the mountain faced by Florida State. The Madness struck in the first game, when FSU inexplicably lost to fourth-seeded Tennessee Tech, 3-1.

That meant they had to do the next-to-impossible: win four straight games in three days to advance to the Super Regional. Of the 288 who have lost their first game, only 21 – just 7 percent – have won four in a row.

Make that 22.

After blowing a lead in the 9th inning, the Seminoles were only a strike away from losing to Auburn on Sunday, but fought back to win 8-7 in 10 innings.

“I don’t think in all my years have I been part of a game in which the highs and lows were so close together,” said FSU Coach Mike Martin. “My guys never folded up and kept battling.”

The next day, the unheralded Will Zirzow, making an appearance on the mound for the first time in 26 days, fired a two-hit shutout as FSU advanced, 6-0. Long Beach State, Kentucky and Florida were the other teams to lose a game (but not the first game) and still move on.

The Gators were moving along nicely in their regional until Sunday night. They had the opportunity for a three-game sweep, but the Bethune-Cookman Wildcats, earned a reprieve with a 6-2 win.

Florida restored order on Monday with a 6-1 regional-clinching win, but it was 0-0 in the 6th inning.

“Hopefully all the adversity that we’ve had, even though our record is really, really good, 45-17 now, there’s been a lot of games we’ve had to grind out,” said Gators Coach Kevin O’Sullivan. ”I’m awfully proud of our team, our players. They deserve all the credit they get and we’re excited about playing next weekend.”

The Madness that saw Texas Tech lose to Sam Houston State was great news for Florida State. Beginning Saturday, they will now host a Tallahassee Super Regional, a remarkable turn of events after questions arose a month ago whether they would even qualify for the NCAA Tournament.

Florida will welcome Wake Forest to Gainesville Super Regional, also beginning Saturday. The winners qualify for the culmination of June Madness, the College World Series in Omaha, Neb.

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 [email protected]

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