With graduation ceremonies commencing on the other side of campus and many of their teammates and classmates set to finish college, Florida State (37-9) looked noticeably distracted as they committed a number of errors and blew a two-run lead in the 8th inning before pulling out a 4-2 win over the University of Central Florida.
"That was one of those [ballgames] that we got key hits," said FSU manager Mike Martin. "Yeah, we made some mistakes but we will strive to improve on them. But it was a good win. We did a few things right in the 8th [inning], I'm just proud of our ballclub."
Luke Weaver and Jameis Winston paced Florida State early on, but sloppy play and mental gaffes allowed Central Florida to claw their way back into the game and very nearly steal one late.
Fortunately for the Seminoles, Senior C Stephen McGee came through when they needed it most.
"There's no way I could have thought he would hit a home run in tonight's conditions," joked Martin. "I could not have hit a three-wood out of here tonight. That wind was really coming in and Stephen, I mean that takes exceptional power and it couldn't have come at a better time for his team."
With a 2-1 count and the Seminoles locked into a tie game just moments after squandering a lead in the top of the 8th inning, McGee crushed a ball over the leftfield wall to deliver the game to Florida State for good. It was just another example of the senior leader coming through in the clutch for the ninth-ranked Seminoles.
"I got a fastball. I went up there just trying to see the ball deep and hit it right back up the middle," said McGee. "He just left a fastball on the inside corner and I just turned on it."
Luke Weaver was excellent for the Seminoles on Friday night, working both sides of the plate and coming right after the UCF hitters on his way to one of his best outing of the season.
The sophomore from DeLand threw 99 pitches over seven strong innings, striking out nine, walking one and giving up six hits while holding the Knight offense scoreless. It was another lights out performance for the Seminoles' ace.
"It was a little shaky at first," said Weaver. "But then I settled down, the fastball was there most of the game and then later in the game the slider was going for strikes, that felt good. That changeup was there consistently throughout the whole game."
"Luke Weaver was outstanding," added Martin. "He pitched beautifully."
Jameis Winston produced the first run of the game with a single and some extremely aggressive base-running in the bottom of the 2nd. After dropping the ball in front of the rightfielder, Winston rounded first hard and put UCF RF Erik Hempe on the spot. The throw came in behind Winston- to first base- and the 6-4, 220-pounder easily took second on the play.
"That's one of my all-time favorite plays in baseball," said Martin. "He literally walked to second, it was just beautiful baseball. J-Boo can think on his feet, let's just put it that way it. It's a beautiful, beautiful thing. He's a baseball player."
The next batter, 2B John Sansone, hit a hard grounder to short, but Winston dallied in the basepath, dodging the ball at the last possible moment and causing the Knights' shortstop and thirdbaseman to collide as they grasped for it. Winston trotted into third and Sansone reached first on what was ruled a single.
Winston continued to press the issue on the basepaths moments later when he broke home and scored the game's first run as UCF threw down to second to catch Sansone stealing.
An inning later the Seminoles pushed their advantage to two runs after Marcus Davis and Jose Brizuela manufactured a little offense of their own. After walking and stealing second, Davis scored when Brizuela roped a two-out liner to right-center to make it 2-0.
That was all the support that Weaver needed, but things got dicey as soon as he left the ballgame. Billy Strode came on to start the 8th and sandwiched an out between a single and a walk to put two Knights on with one out. Gage Smith relieved Strode, but just as quickly gave up a run-scoring single to LF Parker Webster that cut the lead to 2-1.
Seminole closer Robby Coles came on with one down and two on as Florida State clung to their one-run lead and quickly got ahead of 1B James Vasquez 1-2, but ran a fastball too far inside and hit him to load the bases. That brought 3B Austin Johnson up to the plate, he stood stoicly as a close 1-2 fastball sailed past him for a ball but was rung up a pitch later when he didn't offer at another ball near the zone.
DH Erik Barber worked the count more successfully the next batter when he drew a walk to tie the game and erase Weaver as the pitcher of record. Coles managed to strike out 2B Bret Gordon the very next hitter, but the damage was done, Florida State's lead erased.
The tie score didn't hold for long though. Four pitches to be exact.
Just moments after the tying run walked home in the top of the 8th, McGee drove the fourth pitch of the inning, a 2-1 offering from RHP Spencer Davis, over the leftfield wall to give the Seminoles the lead back, 3-2.
"I wasn't positive about that wind," admitted McGee. "I don't want to say I was for sure I got it off the bat, but I mean off the bat I felt really good about it and it got out."
The Seminoles tacked on one more in the bottom of the 8th just for good measure. John Nogowski drew a walk, stole second, advanced on a throwing error and then Sansone drove him in on a hard grounder to make it a two-run Seminole advantage.
Coles stayed on to work the ninth and pick up his third win of the season.
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(Photo courtesy of Ryan Syrkus)