CWS Game Five: Florida State 8, Florida 5

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The score was tied 1-1 in the third when Mike McGee hit a three-run homer to left. That gave the Seminoles the momentum as well as the lead, and they would not relinquish it.

Leadoff man Tyler Holt set the tone for Florida State, hitting a home run in the bottom of the first inning to answer Florida’s run in the top of the frame, then sparking one-out rallies in the third and fourth. He scored three times and drove in two.

Might Have Missed:
Mike Zunino was 0-for-4 and lined into a game-ending double play, but he actually hit two balls very well. They just both resulted in tough-luck double plays. He also lined out to FSU starter Brian Busch in the fourth, and Busch threw to first to double off Matt den Dekker.

OMAHA—Florida State has had Florida’s number all season. The Seminoles won three of their four meetings with the Gators this season, though all three came in midweek games.

With elimination from the College World Series on the line, much more was at stake than a nice Wednesday win.

Of course, Florida State had already proven it could beat Florida’s weekend pitching. Freshman righthander Hudson Randall, now the Gators’ No. 2 starter, appeared in three of those midweek games against FSU, allowing 13 hits and nine runs (eight earned) in 9.1 innings.

Randall fared even worse in Monday’s elimination game, giving up four runs over 2 2/3 innings as Florida State jumped out to an early lead and cruised to an 8-5 win. Florida (47-17), the Southeastern Conference regular-season champion and the No. 3 national seed, is the first team eliminated after two sloppy, flat, uninspired performances.

“We obviously didn’t play like we have all year,” Florida coach Kevin O’Sullivan said. “I don’t want to take anything away from UCLA or Florida State, because they obviously played better than we did . . . We’re a much better pitching team than this and a much better defensive club than this. But we obviously need to get better.”

Florida State’s two junior All-Americans did the heavy lifting for the offense. In Saturday’s loss to Texas Christian, leadoff man Tyler Holt and No. 3 hitter Mike McGee combined to go 2-for-8 with no RBIs and one run scored. Monday, Holt sparked the Florida State (48-19) offense, going 3-for-4 with three runs and two RBIs. And McGee, the team’s RBIs leader, went 2-for-4 with two runs and four RBIs.

“Their go-to guys helped them today, obviously,” O’Sullivan said. “Holt had three runs scored, and McGee had the big three-run homer in the third, they kind of distanced themselves a little bit.”

Holt set the tone by leading off the game with a solo homer off the batter’s eye in center field. Then he started one-out rallies in the third and fourth, with a walk and a single, respectively. McGee, meanwhile, blasted that three-run homer to left in the third and drove in another with a perfect squeeze bunt in the fourth, scoring Holt.

“These two guys who play every day have been the backbone, you might say, of our club all year,” Florida State coach Mike Martin said. “Tyler got us off to a good start, and Michael did an excellent job not only of hitting the home run but executing the safety squeeze to get us another run.

“We wouldn’t be here without these men, no question about it. They do have the experience, they’re captains of the team, along with Stephen Cardullo. It was clearly evident in the dugout that they knew the game wasn’t over, because they kept saying to the rest of the guys, ‘This game’s not over, stay tough.’ That’s a clear indication they have a good grasp of the game of baseball.”

Indeed, Florida never quit, even down six runs heading into the ninth. The Gators had failed to cash in with runners on base in the fourth through eighth innings against FSU starter Brian Busch (5.1 IP, 2 H, 2 ER) and reliever Geoff Parker (2.1 IP, 4 H, 0 R). With the game on the line and the score just 5-2 in the seventh, Parker escaped a first-and-second, one-out jam by getting Josh Adams to fly out to center and Preston Tucker to pop out harmlessly to first base.

Tucker finally got his first hit of the College World Series with the bases loaded in the ninth, smashing a three-run double to right field. That prompted Martin to summon McGee from left field to close it out.

McGee was not sharp. He allowed a single and then hit a batter to load the bases again, bringing Florida catcher Mike Zunino to the plate as the go-ahead run with just one out. McGee left a slider over the plate, and Zunino lined it to shortstop, where Cardullo squeezed it and flipped to second to double off Austin Maddox, ending the game.

“It was supposed to be a slider down, off the plate, in the dirt—completely unhittable,” McGee said of the final pitch. “It slipped out of my hand a little bit, and as soon as I let go of it, I felt it go up, and I was like, ‘Oh no.’ . . . I didn’t turn around at first—I was like, ‘Nooo,’ but then I heard a pop. It was a good way to get out of the game.”

Just like the rest of Florida State’s season, it wasn’t a pretty, but it was a win. Winning ballplayers like McGee tend to find a way when it matters most.

“Michael comes in the game, we’ve got the man in the game we want in the game at that moment because he’s been there so many times,” Martin said. “Certainly there was a concern of the lead that we had and seeing it dwindle, but Mike was in control. He made the pitches—other than the last one—he made the pitches he wanted to. And I’m glad he mentioned that it was supposed to be a slider in the dirt.

“But that’s the game of baseball—it’s so unpredictable. If guys threw the ball where they wanted to every time, y’all wouldn’t have anything to write about . . . But yeah, I was a little anxious, and I was glad when it was over.”