TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – Florida State spent most of Sunday’s sun-splashed afternoon at Dick Howser Stadium clawing its way back from North Carolina’s 32-minute, third-inning offensive barrage.
With its 25-Sunday winning streak on the line, the Seminoles came up just short of erasing a five-run deficit, falling 7-6 in a battle of top 10 Atlantic Coast Conference teams.
It was FSU’s first loss on a Sunday since the 2009 ACC Championship game to Virginia, and the first at home on Sunday since March 8, 2009 against Boston College – an amazing 25-month stretch.
North Carolina reliever Michael Morin shared a celebratory chest-bump with catcher Jacob Stallings after retiring Justin Gonzalez for the final out, which snapped a streak a seven consecutive series losses to the Seminoles in Tallahassee.
“Their reliever shut us slap down,” FSU coach Mike Martin said. “You’ve got to really give them a lot of credit, but it doesn’t hide the disappointment because nobody that is in this profession that enjoys getting beat.
“Right now I’m not a happy camper.”
For the second consecutive game the seventh-ranked Seminoles (23-9, 9-6 ACC) out-hit the Tar Heels (29-5, 12-3) and came away on the wrong side of the ledger. Martin watched his club strand 11 baserunners for the second consecutive game as well.
Trailing 7-2 after UNC’s third inning barrage, relievers Mack Waugh and Daniel Bennett gave the Seminoles a chance by holding the Tar Heels in check the rest of the way.
Waugh get the call from the bullpen in the middle of UNC’s big inning, stepping in for starter Gary Merians who opened the inning by issuing a walk, then relinquished a double and two RBI singles, which tied the game.
“It was a tough situation coming into,” Waugh said. “I just tried to hit spots and make pitches, which I felt like I did. They were just getting the bat on the ball. They’re a good team over there. They know how to play baseball.”
Waugh was stung for three consecutive at the start and by the time he escaped the mess, the Tar Heels were in front to stay.
Martin half-heartedly joked that he didn’t recognize some of his players when they finally go back to the dugout at the end of UNC’s 30-minute barrage.
“After that I tried to get back out there and put up a zero and get my team back in the dugout and have them chip at the lead a little bit,” he added.
The Seminoles did that, scoring two runs in the fifth and sixth to pull within one. Sherman Johnson’s RBI double and Gonzalez’s RBI single made it 7-4 after five innings. Mike McGee’s seventh homer of the season – a two-run shot in the sixth – brought them within 7-6.
“I never lost confidence that we could get it done,” said McGee, whose 49th career blast gives him sole possession of sixth place on FSU’s all-time list.
With Waugh settling in, FSU’s defense contributed as well. Catcher Rafael Lopez gunned down two would-be Tar Heel base-stealers in the fifth and seventh – he had three on the day and four in the series – to help keep it close.
Morin, however, quickly quelled any notion the ‘Noles had of completing the comeback. Pitching in his third consecutive game, the right-hander struck out five over the final three innings, twice leaving Seminoles at second base.
“From the time that Mike hit the ball out of the ballpark, I don’t believe we challenged them,” Martin said. “We didn’t get a guy to third base. They just shut us down.”
As disappointed as Martin was with the outcome, he was very pleased with Waugh’s performance.
“He [Waugh] will start Saturday at Virginia Tech,” Martin said. “He will be our No. 2 starter. That’s how much I was impressed with him.”
It might have been a happier ending for Martin in the ‘Noles had they been able to cash in on two chances to break the game open in the early going. FSU loaded the bases on three walks and chased UNC starter Chris Munnelly in the first, but managed just one run on James Ramsey’s RBI infield single. Reliever Greg Holt rang up a pair of strikeouts to escape potential disaster.
An inning later, three of the first four Seminoles to the plate singled, including Lopez’s run-scoring hit to left, before McGee grounded into an inning-ending double play. FSU also stranded runners at second and third in a scoreless third after UNC’s eruption.
Ramsey (3-for-5) lead FSU’s 13-hit attack, while Travis, Lopez and Gonzalez each contributed a pair of knocks.
Moved to the No. 2 spot in the batting order for the first time in his career, Lopez responded by going 7-for-11 (.640) at the plate, to go along with his defensive prowess behind it. The Tar Heels, who came into the series with 53 stolen bases, were shut out by the senior catcher and the ‘Noles.
Despite the series loss, FSU maintained its three-game ACC Atlantic Division lead when Maryland knocked off Clemson on Sunday.
Now the ‘Noles will turn their attention to Tuesday, when Florida visits Dick Howser Stadium for the fourth and final game of the series. FSU holds a 2-1 lead in the series and an outright series win will figure significantly in its postseason placement.
Hunter Scantling will make his third consecutive start against the Gators in the 6 p.m. contest, which will not be televised, but will be available via All-Access at Seminoles.com.