Florida State is on to the Super Regionals after sweeping through the Athens Regional. Mike Salvatore continued his sensational senior season as he won Regional MOP for his 9/14 performance. He also scored 8 runs and had 4 RBI. Drew Mendoza, JC Flowers and CJ Van Eyk had great contributions in the three games also.
After a regular-season that looked like it might not end in the NCAA tournament for the first time in 42 seasons, there wasn’t much hope that this version of the Seminoles could do damage in the tournament. Lots of questions were still yet to be answered. Questions like who could play a consistent left field? Who could solve the riddle at first base? Would ‘11’ find anyone that could be the third starter in the rotation? Could we find anybody in middle relief? The answers mostly look like yes. And oh yeah, the fielding has gone from hard to watch to pretty solid as well.
Former FSU club baseball team president Tim Becker answered the left-field question. After three years on the club baseball team and spending much of this season as a seldom-used reserve Tim Becker was inserted into the lineup. Since then FSU has scored 10 plus runs every game since and have won 4 straight. Becker is batting .500 with 6 runs, 8 RBI and 3 homers in those 4 blowouts. Not to mention being a new FSU folk hero and even trending on Twitter on Friday.
First base was also an issue with Cooper Swanson and Nico Baldor batting under .200 and having breakdowns in the field at least once a game. After getting no-hit by Stetson, Carter Smith has been in the 8 spot in the lineup and has looked like an upgrade over the other two in the field. In the past few weeks he has been a tough out and gave Georgia a knockout punch with a three run homer in Saturday’s game.
Conor Grady has only had one start since getting hammered by Louisville two weeks ago. In that one start Grady was masterful, going 7 innings, allowing 8 base runners and giving up just 1 run. He has had a few good outings this year only to follow it up with a clunker. Hopefully next time Grady is called upon he will deliver similar results as he did in Athens.
The middle relief has not really been called upon to get many high leverage outs, except for Chase Haney Friday versus FAU. He inherited a bases-loaded no-out situation and got two ground outs to slow down an Owl rally.
During the season, Florida and Louisville kept the pressure on the Seminole defense every time a runner was able to reach base. Two years ago in the College World Series, LSU was able to do the same thing. This year will be no different as the Tigers have 5 players with over 6 stolen bases and they like to take the extra base whenever possible.
In the last four games, the FSU defense has been better, but still managed three errors Saturday night versus Georgia. LSU leadoff man Josh Smith leads the team in average (.346) and stolen bases (20). As a freshman in Omaha, LSU’s all-time hit leader Antoine Duplantis gave FSU headaches with his speed and he is still there. Zach Watson (.310 average), Daniel Cabrera. (12 HR) and Saul Garza (11 HR) are hitters to look out for as well.
LSU probably has the best bullpen FSU has seen this year especially since moving Zack Hess to the back end. The good thing for the Seminoles is that the LSU rotation features all right-handed pitchers. Three of the top four in the order are left-handed and have crushed right-handers lately. The rest of the FSU lineup seems to be a lot more comfortable and consistent versus righties as well.
LSU has been more dependable on defense and more consistent in pitching, but the Seminoles have the better lineup from top to bottom. I think the most important player in the series will be FSU’s freshman catcher Mat Nelson. It will be up to him to help his pitchers slow down the Tigers running game. He will also be the first right-handed hitter after the three lefties Albert, Mendoza and Martin, so he will need to come up with some clutch hits in the Super Regional. If he does well at both, I think the Seminoles will be in Omaha for the 17th time under Mike Martin.
Game times and pitching probables
All games at Alex Box Stadium in Baton Rouge, LA
Game 1: Saturday 3 PM Florida State (CJ Van Eyk) at LSU (Cole Henry)
Game 2: Sunday 6 PM LSU (Landon Marceaux) at Florida State (Drew Parrish)
Game 3: Monday 8:30 PM Florida State (Conor Grady) at LSU (TBD)
First game goes to FSU, 6-4!