Tallahassee - No. 5 Florida State (2-0) secured its 33rd consecutive series victory on opening weekend with a 4-1 victory over Niagara (0-2) Saturday afternoon on Mike Martin Field inside Dick Howser Stadium.
The Seminoles received another outstanding performance from their starting pitcher as this time Brandon Leibrandt (1-0) blanked the Purple Eagles over 6.0 strong innings allowing just four hits and one walk while striking out five.
In fact, the announced attendance of 5,511 inside Dick Howser Stadium on Saturday was treated to a pitcher’s duel as Leibrandt and Niagara starter Drew Fittry exchanged zeroes through the first five innings.
"Of course when you're not scoring any runs after five innings and your starter is holding the other team to the same number of runs, you have to be excited," head coach Mike Martin said. "You just hope you get an opportunity and we did and we took advantage of it."
Fittry (0-1) stymied the Seminole bats in game two holding Florida State to just one hit in 5.1 innings of work. This coming just one day after the Seminole bats exploded for 15 hits. Brett Knief’s RBI single in the sixth erased Fittry’s no-hit bid while chasing the senior right hander from the game.
"I tip my hat to our guys who stayed tough and had disciplined at bats," Martin said. "We had a couple of chances to really bust it open, but credit them (Niagara). They made good pitches and got outs when they needed them."
“He was effective working both sides of the plate,” said junior first baseman John Nogowski on Fittry. “He had a little slider and change-up. We were kind of antsy I felt like early but Brett got the big hit to get things rolling. But their guy did a nice job of shutting us down for five innings.”
Justin Gonzalez, who led off the sixth with a hit-by-pitch, one of three on the afternoon to tie a single-game school record, scored from second on Knief’s single to center. John Nogowski would drive in Knief for the second run of the inning on a two-out double to left center to give Florida State a 2-0 lead.
“I was just trying to be productive,” said Knief. “We had Justin on at second; I was trying to work up the middle. Got into a 1-0 count, thought he was going to give me a pretty good pitch and it just happened.”
The Seminoles extended their lead to 3-0 in the seventh without registering a hit. Florida State took advantage of a walk and three hit-by-pitches in the inning with the lone run coming off a DJ Stewart sac-fly to center scoring Danny De La Calle.
Niagara broke through with its first run of the game in the eighth off reliever Taylor Blatch. Making his first collegiate appearance, Blatch issued a walk to the first batter he faced before giving up a double to Jordan Schwartz and an RBI infield single to Pavel Rusova-Chavez. With the go ahead run at the plate, Martin went to the bullpen and called on closer Jameis Winston.
“I just wanted to get out there and pitch,” said Winston. “Obviously, I was excited and when they called down to the bullpen, I was ready.”
Winston delivered retiring the final six batters to earn his first save of the season. The sophomore right hander got the Seminoles out of the jam in the eighth recording a pair of fielder’s choice groundouts followed by a Thomas Rodrigues fly out to left. He returned to pitch the ninth and set down all three Niagara batters that he faced on a groundout, fly out and strikeout to end the game.
Gage Smith made his second appearance in as many games working a perfect seventh as he recorded a strikeout.
Nogowski registered two of FSU’s three hits on the afternoon with an RBI double in the sixth and a single to lead off the eighth. The only other Seminole hit of the game came off the bat of Knief in Florida State’s two-run sixth inning.
Stewart, Knief, Nogowski and Danny De La Calle all recorded an RBI in Saturday’s victory.
Despite being held to just three hits, Florida State took advantage of six hit-by-pitches and six walks from four Niagara pitchers.
Both Stewart and Gonzalez extended their streaks of reaching base following Saturday’s game to 29 and 14, respectively. Stewart’s career-best 18-game hitting streak came to a close after the sophomore left fielder finished the game 0-for-2 in four plate appearances.
Leibrandt faced just two over the minimum in his first start of the season as two of the four hits he allowed were erased from the base paths both on pickoffs and both against designated hitter Thomas Rodrigues. The first came in the first inning when Rodrigues was picked off at second after doubling down the line in right. He was picked off for the second time in the fourth after reaching on a bunt single.
“Had a few butterflies, but once I got out there I was able to settle down and make pitches when I needed to,” said Leibrandt. “It (pick-off move) is one of those things I work on pretty often in practice trying to make it look exactly like I am going home. I’ve had some success so far (with it); I’m hoping to keep it going.”
The Seminoles and Purple Eagles wrap-up the weekend series with game three on Sunday, February 16 at 11:30 a.m. Redshirt sophomore Mike Compton will be on the mound for FSU making his first start since 2012.
Sunday’s game will air live over the internet on Seminoles.com All-Access, while fans can also listen to the game live on the All-Access player. Locally, fans can listen to the game on 100.7 FM. As always, Seminole fans can follow the Noles on twitter @FSU_Baseball and remember to like the Seminoles on Facebook (www.facebook.com/FSUBaseball). Live stats for Sunday’s game will be available via gametracker.