Florida State managed to complete the sweep of Rhode Island in their season opening series on Sunday- but it wasn't pretty.
The Seminoles were down 5-0 before they even got a hit on Sunday afternoon, they were out-hit 9-8 and they committed five errors. But behind a four-run 8th inning and a DJ Stewart walk-off home run, Florida State stole an 8-6 victory from Rhode Island in extra innings to finish the sweep.
"This was one where you're just proud to be a Seminole because our young men persevered," said FSU head coach Mike Martin. "The young men stayed tough at the plate, had some good at-bats, got themselves back in the game.
"We kept battling, we kept scrapping and it was a real accomplishment for Florida State to win the way it did."
The Rams got on to the board early in a bizarre first inning that featured three base-runners and a run despite no hits being surrendered. Florida State starter, junior righty Peter Miller, retired the leadoff hitter but then walked the next two. Two batters later Jose Brizuela dropped the would-be third out, a towering pop-fly, on the edge of the infield grass to allow the first URI run to score.
It was Brizuela's fourth error of the series. The sophomore also had good moments against Rhode Island, like his opening day grand slam and getting hit with the bases loaded to allow the winning run to cross Saturday. But in his first three games since moving to third-base Brizuela's defense has been suspect.
"He had some very good at bats," said Martin, "[But] as he continues to play third base, I'm sure he'll get better and learn from some of those mistakes he made today."
Control was a problem for Miller once again in the second when he gave up a single and then walked a man before advancing both into scoring position on a wild pitch. A two-out single by RF Joe Landi drove both in to make it 3-0 and sent Florida State scrambling to warm up a reliever.
Martin opted to stick with Miller to start the 3rd though and it proved to be the wrong decision. Miller gave up a single and then walked the next hitter before a sacrifice bunt advanced both into scoring position. With one out and two on, Martin went to sophomore LHP Bryant Holtmann who was able to get out of the inning with just one run scoring on a sac-fly.
URI would tack on another run in the fourth to make it 5-0 before the Florida State bullpen was able to clamp down.
Miller lasted just 2.1 innings, giving up three hits and four runs (two earned) while walking four. He was replaced by Holtmann who worked 1.2 and gave up a run on three hits. Sophomore LHP Billy Strode came on and settled things down for the Seminoles pitching a scoreless fifth and sixth inning in his Florida State debut.
The Seminoles would get on the board in the bottom of the sixth when the Rhode Island pitchers started to run out of gas. Junior RHP Liam O'Sullivan was excellent through five but after retiring the leadoff hitter in the sixth gave up a double to junior DH Marcus Davis before Brizuela tripled to drive in the first Florida State run of the game.
Sophomore LHP Ty Sterner replaced O'Sullivan but was wild. He walked two and let a couple of his pitches get to the back-stop, advancing Florida State runners each time. Sterner surrendered another run (credited to O'Sullivan) before getting out of the sixth with URI clinging to its 5-2 lead.
After QB/OF/RHP Jameis Winston worked a quiet top of the 7th in his pitching debut, Sterner was able to get through the bottom of the inning without incident.
Winston ran into trouble in the top of the 8th though when he balked in a run to extend the URI lead to 6-2. Brizuela made his fifth error of the series on a throw across the infield to start the 8th and then a throwing error by Winston put men on the corners with no outs. Winston fought through the next two batters but with two down was called for the balk allowing the Rams' sixth run to cross.
FSU wasn't done though. In the bottom of the eighth Brizuela lead off with a double and advanced to third on a throwing error. The next batter, senior OF Seth Miller walked before sophomore 2B Giovanni Alfonzo singled to right to drive in Brizuela and cut the Rhode Island lead to three.
URI Manager Jim Foster went back to the bullpen, replacing Sterner (2.1 IP, 2 H, 3 ER, 2 BB, 2K) with junior RHP Milan Mantle. With two on and no out, Mantle wasted little time walking junior 1B Casey Smit on five pitches to load the bases. Junior OF Brett Knief drove in two runs with his first hit as a Seminole the very next batter to make it 6-5.
Mantle got senior SS Justin Gonzalez to strike out for the first out of the inning before walking freshman LF DJ Stewart to load the bases for Stephen McGee, who tied the game on a fielder's choice when the shortstop went to second for the force.
The bases were loaded again after Davis walked and that brought Jose Brizuela up to the plate for the second time in the inning. But the sophomore was unable to do anything with his second at-bat, skying a pop-up to short for the third out of the inning.
The two teams traded scoreless frames in the ninth. After balking the run in during the 8th Jameis Winston displayed excellent maturity to shake it off and pitch a scorless inning for the Seminoles.
"Jameis was very impressive," said Martin. "He kept his poise, the balk didn't bother him, he kept his poise and got us in the dugout."
"It was fun. It was fun because I came in a tough situation," said Winston, who finished with 3 IP, 2 H, 1 R, 0 ER and 4 K's. "I knew that we were going to come back and get the win. I was like 'hopefully I can get me a win,' because I know we're not about to lose to Rhode Island- even though it is baseball."
But FSU couldn't finish the comeback in the bottom of the ninth and went down 1-2-3 to set up a tenth and final inning to begin just minutes before the NCAA-mandated 3:45 curfew.
Junior RHP Gage Smith worked a scoreless top of the 10th for FSU and then turned things over to the Seminole offense to try and get him the win. After pinch hitter Ladson Montgomery flied out to deep center, Justin Gonzalez singled to left and DJ Stewart stepped to the plate with a man on, one out and a chance to finish URI.
"I was just sitting there, listening to [coach Martin] the whole way," said Stewart. "I was looking for my pitch to get and drive it."
After working the count to 2-2, Stewart- in just his third game at FSU- blasted a walk-off home run to deep right-center field to give Florida State the sweep and cap their comeback.
"I knew it was gone as soon as I hit it," joked Stewart. "The only thing, when I got to first I was like, 'please get over the fence,' but then I saw it.
"The first person I saw [when I rounded third] was Gonzo. And just the excitement on his face, that's what I'm here to do it for, the seniors, they've been here for four years. They keep getting to Omaha. We want to win it this year."
Next up for Florida State is Jacksonville who comes to town Tuesday afternoon.
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