TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – A 14-hit attack by the Florida State baseball team – its most productive day at the plate in nearly a month - felt awfully empty at the end of Saturday night’s 8-5 loss to North Carolina.
The Tar Heels’ bullpen shut down the seventh-ranked Seminoles from the fifth inning to the finish, tying the Atlantic Coast Conference series at one game apiece heading into Sunday’s series finale.
From the outset the game shaped up as shootout. In the end, it was decided by the UNC bullpen, which a night earlier, was unable to hold a 3-2 lead in the eighth.
“They seemed to come through with quality pitches and do a very good job of making pitches in those clutch situations,” said FSU coach Mike Martin, whose team stranded 11 baserunners – seven in scoring position – and bounced into a pair of double plays.
Devon Travis, one of three ‘Noles with three hits on the night, described the five runs on 14 hits as, “a little awkward.”
“We just never had that big hit,” Travis said. “That’s what we really needed tonight and we didn’t have it.”
But the Seminoles (23-8, 9-5 ACC) came, oh so close.
Trailing 8-5 in the sixth, FSU came within inches of tying it on one Jayce Boyd swing. UNC left fielder Chaz Frank had other ideas.
Frank reached over the wall and pulled Boyd’s potential, three-run homer back into the yard, stranding Travis and James Ramsey.
“I ran home backwards for the first time in my life,” said Travis, who was at third when Boyd blasted the 0-1 fastball. “That dude [Frank] made a really nice catch. I think if there was another outfielder out there it would have left (the park).”
Boyd wasn’t quite as sure as his teammate.
“I knew it had a chance,” said Boyd, who was 3-for-4 on the night. “It got in on me a little bit. I hit it off the handle some. The guy made a great play on it. You’ve just got to say, ‘Good job.’ It doesn’t go your way sometimes.”
Things didn’t go the Seminoles’ way from that point forward.
North Carolina reliever Shane Taylor (2-1) was the beneficiary of Frank’s snare. Taylor did more than his part after the Seminoles chased Tar Heels’ starter Kent Emanuel in the fourth. He limited the Seminoles to four hits over a career-high four innings of scoreless work. In fact, FSU was held in check completely after tagging Emanuel for a season-high 10 hits and five runs before he was lifted with one out in the fifth.
The Seminoles jumped on Emanuel for a pair of runs in the first on four hits and a sacrifice fly. Ramsey’s run-scoring sacrifice fly to center and Sherman Johnson’s looping, opposite field RBI single staked FSU starter Scott Sitz to a 2-0 lead.
The Tar Heels (28-5, 11-3) trailed for the 10th consecutive game, but not for long as Jesse Wierzbicki tripled to open the second and Sitz walked the next two batters. Seth Baldwin’s RBI single to right halved the deficit and brought Sitz’s shortest start of the season to a close.
Seminoles’ left-hander Brian Bush relieved Sitz and minimized the damage, limiting the Tar Heels to a pair of RBI groundballs before escaping the jam.. The one-time starter registered outs against the first 11 batters he faced; just long enough for the ‘Noles to regain the lead with a two-run fourth.
FSU tied the game in the second when Taiwan Easterling raced to second on an errant throw by UNC shortstop Levi Michael and scored on Travis’ RBI single. Two innings later, one-out singles by Travis and Rafael Lopez (3-for-4) capped Emanuel’s night. Ramsey laid down a two-out, RBI bunt single and Boyd’s lined an RBI single off Taylor that caromed into left field for a 5-3 lead.
Busch (1-1) was sailing along with two outs in the fifth until Tommy Coyle lofted a soft single to center and Jacobs Stallings sliced an RBI triple down the right field line. Colin Moran’s RBI single through the right side tied the game and Jesse Wierzbicki reached on a Sherman Johnson error at third, that allowed Moran to score the go-ahead run. Frank’s RBI single to right gave UNC a 7-5 lead they refused to relinquish.
“When they scored those [four] runs, they weren’t really well-hit balls,” Lopez said. “They were well-placed pitches. It was great to see out of Busch. Everybody was wondering when that would should up and it showed up. I was really happy for Brian.”’
Busch’s solid effort – and the 14 hits – were the bright spots. Now the Seminoles turn their attention to Sunday’s series-deciding game. FSU has registered 25 consecutive Sunday victories and has not lost at home on a Sunday since March 8, 2009 against Boston College – 25 months ago.
“There’s no question that when each team has won one game, you look at it as a situation of, ‘let’s see what we’re all about,’” Martin said. “North Carolina has an outstanding team … I’m anxious to see how we play tomorrow.”