TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – Hunter Scantling has spent three seasons waiting for the opportunities placed before him Tuesday night at Dick Howser Stadium.
This was no small stage for Florida State’s big fella, who seized the moment and delivered the most memorable – and important – pitching performance of his career.
Facing fourth-ranked Florida with a chance to secure the season series and earn a spot in the weekend rotation, the 6-foot-8 right-hander filled up the strike zone and the scoreboard with zeroes. His seven innings of three-hit, shutout work delivered the eighth-ranked Seminoles a 3-1 victory before a crowd of 6,357.
“It’s a pretty good indication that you can pitch when you pitch like that against the University of Florida,” FSU coach Mike Martin said.
Scantling matched career-highs for innings pitched and strikeouts – seven – and yielded only an opposite field single by Tyler Thompson in the second and a bunt single by Zack Powers in the sixth.
The Jacksonville native had ample motivation.
“More than half my family is Gator fans and that made it that much more exciting for me to get out there and go seven [innings] like I did,” Scantling said. “It just felt great, doing what I did – quick innings, getting our offense back in the dugout and trying to score runs.”
The Seminoles (24-9) got on the board first against Florida starter Alex Panteliodis in the fourth. One-out singles by James Ramsey and Jayce Boyd (2-for-3) set the table. With two down and Stuart Tapley battling Panteliodis to a full count, Ramsey and Boyd were running.
Tapley drilled a hot, one-hop drive at Florida shortstop Nolan Fontana, who barely avoided taking the ball off his face, as escaped his grasp. Ramsey never broke stride, rounding third and scoring just ahead of the throw home.
“I like to play the game aggressively,” said Ramsey, who extended his career-high hitting streak to 11 games. “Call it the football mentality, call it what you want, but I’m going to try and score for my team. When I’m on second base, no matter what happens, if they have a little hiccup I’m going to score.
“I knew that Stu hit the ball hard enough that it was going to be a tough play. Fontana is a great shortstop, but the ball ate him up a little bit. … As soon as Stu hit it, you can’t doubt”.
The 1-0 lead held up until the seventh, when the Seminoles added a pair of critical insurance runs. Johnson singled and went to third when Justin Gonzalez legged out an infield single and advanced to third on Powers’ wide throw from third base. Martin sent pinch-hitter Parker Brunelle to the play to face Greg Larson, who planned to intentionally walk the bases full.
Standing up behind the plate with his arm out, Florida catcher Mike Zunino was not prepared for Larson’s offering. It sailed to the backstop, enabling Johnson to score easily form third.
The oddest of plays unfolded just as third base coach Mike Martin, Jr. had mentioned to Johnson.
“‘Pay attention, they might throw it away,’” Johnson said, recounting the conversation with his coach. “As soon as I looked up, [Larson] was throwing the ball and the catcher was still looking into the field. I saw it go over his head and I just took off.”
Larson retired Brunelle on a pop out before he was replaced by Tommy Toledo. Toledo’s first pitch to Devon Travis was wide of the mark and scooted to the backstop as Johnson came home for a 3-0 edge.
Florida spoiled FSU’s bid for a shutout in the ninth when Brian Johnson singled home Preston Tucker, whose leadoff double on an opposite field pop fly to shallow left, fell to the ground. Seminoles’ reliever Daniel Bennett, who replaced Brian Busch after the pop-up double, knuckled down from there and secured his second save of the season when Daniel Pigott grounded into a game-ending fielder’s choice.
“To take three out of four from them, especially when you only have one at home, we’re very pleased with the way this series went with them this year,” Ramsey said.
It might not have been possible had Scantling not served up his best performance as a Seminole.
“Tonight, I don’t know what it was,” Scantling said. “I felt more relaxed and was ready to go.”
Scantling’s 87-pitch performance – in his third start of the season against the Gators - included 61 strikes and a steady diet of sliders.
“I think I threw 41 sliders and 31 for strikes,” he said afterward, still smiling. “Early in the counts, late in the counts, they were chasing down. I kept trying to repeat that and they kept swinging at it.”
Over those three appearances, Scantling has filled up an impressive pitching line: 13.1 innings, 12 hits, four runs (three earned), 14 strikeouts and just three walks.
Scantling admitted that pitching coach Jamey Shouppe provided a little “extra incentive” by dangling the carrot – a start on Sunday at Virginia Tech – prior to the game.
“About four weeks ago, when he pitched against a very good Florida baseball team … he had success and all of a sudden the confidence built,” Martin said. “Then he got to pitch again, and he had success again. Well, it carried over tonight and he will pitch in our rotation as of now.”
The Seminoles improved to 7-2 against the Gators over the past two seasons, in what will undoubtedly weigh heavily in their favor come the postseason. The win also helped ease the sting of dropping two games to North Carolina over the weekend.
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