By: Greg Waters
Mike McGee (3-3), Brian Busch and Daniel Bennett held Georgia Tech to two runs and catcher Rafael Lopez went 2-for-5 and scored twice as the Florida State Seminoles (42-16) held off a late rally by the Jackets to stay alive in the race for a spot in the ACC Tournament Championship game Sunday.
“I thought our young men really played exceptionally,” said long time FSU head man Mike Martin. “[Rafael Lopez’] big double and catching such an excellent game and Michael [McGee] giving us five-plus; Michael went out there, gave us five strong innings, and really gave us a lift.”
Buck Farmer (10-3) took the loss surrendering four runs on seven hits, striking out eight and walking three in six innings of work. The loss eliminated Georgia Tech (40-19) from the tournament and in all likelihood ended any hope the Jackets held out for a national seed when the NCAA seedings are announced Monday afternoon.
“I thought we were very sloppy today,” said Tech Head Coach Danny Hall. We got off to a slow start and did some uncharacteristic things. Give [Florida State] credit because I felt like they did what they needed to do to win. I felt like we didn’t really give it our best shot.”
The Seminoles got all the runs they needed in bottom of the third inning. Lopez and McGee led off with back-to-back singles and Jayce Boyd’s single down the third base line loaded the bases with one out. Farmer walked Sherman Johnson on four pitches to plate Lopez and McGee scored on Justin Gonzalez’s fly ball to center. Stuart Tapley drew the second free pass of the inning to reload the bases; a walk the proved too be costly. On the next play Farmers pickoff attempted sailed out of the reach of first baseman Jake Davies allowing Boyd to score what proved to be the winning run.
“The first couple of innings, especially the third inning, definitely were not my best,” said Farmer. “I probably got off to a slow start and missed a couple spots. After I got settled in finally, I think I threw the ball decently well. I just tried to give our team a shot to win.”
Florida State added an insurance run in the bottom of the fourth.
The Jackets had one last ninth inning gasp.
Brandon Thomas doubled and Zane Evans single put the tying runners on the corners and the winning run at the plate. FSU closer Daniel Bennett faked a throw to third base and then fired to first to easily catch pinch runner Connor Winn well off the bag for the out.
Senior Catcher Rafael Lopez says the Bennett pickoff play really changed the final inning momentum.
The pickoff definitely [swung the momentum],” notes Lopez. “It even surprises me. There are times that I ask myself ‘what is he doing?’ I didn’t even know it was coming. I thought he was going to throw to third. I love it and it usually gets us out of a jam.”
Bennett got Kyle Wren swinging and Jayce Boyd squeezed Jacob Esch’s soft pop out for the final out.
With the Tigers 6-3 victory over the NC State the Noles advance to Sunday’s title game.
#6 Clemson vs. #7 NC State
Clemson’s Tigers eliminated the North Carolina State Wolfpack from a chance at the ACC title with a 6-3 win Saturday afternoon.
Jonathan Meyer started for Clemson but took a shot off his knee and Tiger skipper Jack Leggett had go with a ‘Johnny-whole-staff’ day using seven pitchers in all. Matt Campbell (1-0) claimed his first win of the season and Scott Weisman pitched a scoreless ninth to earn his seventh save.
Nick Rice fell to 1-1 on the season with the loss. D.J. Thomas started the contest for State tossing 4.2 innings and giving up just one run on four hits.
The Wolfpack opened the scoring in the bottom of the second. Tarran Senay walked and scored on Andrew Ciencin’s double and an error. David Haselden entered the game when it was clear Meyer could go no longer and promptly surrendered an RBI single to John Gianis allowing Ciencin came around to score.
The Tigers scratched in top of the fourth on Brad Millers [what number] home run of the season. State quickly respond to Millers round tripper as Harold Riggans was hit by a pitch to lead off the bottom of the frame followed by Senay’s double to right to put two runners in scoring position. Andrew Ciencin flied out to shallow right for the sacrifice as Clemson Epps dropped the transfer and made no throw.
In the top of the sixth, Jack Leggett’s Tigers took control.
Easley walked the first two batters he faced in the inning so Elliot Avnet went to his bullpen for righthander Nick Rice. Rice forced Miller to fly out and got the second out on Will Lamb’s fielder’s choice. That’s when Richie Shaffer’s 425-foot, three-run blast into the Goodmon Field box in centerfield put the Tigers on top 4-3.
Avent said the idea was for Rice to pitch around Shaffer but he left a fastball out over the plate and Tiger first base knew what to do with it.
“Will did a great job hustling down the line to extend the inning,” said Shaffer. “I wasn’t trying to do too much I was just looking for a good pitch to hit. I wasn’t really expecting anything I was just trying to see the ball and react but I think it was fast ball that he left over the plate.”
Epps continued his bid for Tournament MVP with a solo shot to right field ‘Home Run Patio’ to push the Tiger lead to two. Clemson added one more run in the top the eighth when Phil Pohl and Brad Miller opened the inning with back-to-back singles to put runners on the corners. Lamb sacrificed to right to score Pohl for the final 3-run margin.
“Chris is one of those guys when he gets on a streak he’s pretty good,” said Leggett of Epps’ play in the tourney. “He’s hot right and you might get him an at-bat or two which [State] did early in the game and all of a sudden he shows up with a big hit. You like to see him come to the plate right now because he’s got a lot of confidence and he’s playing a really good right field for us.”
Epps is hitting .333 for the tournament but has a 1.111 slugging percentage and three extra base hits to go along with five RBI.
Both Clemson and State now await their NCAA fates.
#4 North Carolina vs. #8 Wake Forest
The Heels and Deacons completed their weather shortened affair from Friday night/Saturday morning with Carolina taking a 9-0 final.
Wakes Tim Cooney (7-3) suffered the loss after giving up seven runs on seven UNC hits. Mike Fox used four additional pitchers after Patrick Johnson hurled six scoreless innings. Johnson walked two Deacons but did not surrender a hit.
The Tar Heels improve to 45-13 and will likely hear their name called Monday as a top-8 NCAA Tournament seed.
#5 Miami vs. #8 Wake Forest
E.J. Encinosa pitched 5.2 innings of one-run baseball and Zeke DeVoss continued his hot hitting to pace Miami to a 4-2 win in their ACC Tournament finale over Wake Forest. Encinosa improved his record to 5-5 while the Canes improved to 36-21 on the year.
DeVoss added a 3-for-4 night, scoring a run and knocking in one to his already lofty tournament stats. For the week DeVoss is hitting .800 (8-for-10) with four RBI. Miami manager Jim Morris says DeVoss gave the Canes everything he could ask for in Durham.
“He has had a great tournament. I know he was 11-for-11 [in reaching base] at one point,” said Morris. “He went 3-for-4 tonight with a RBI and just did a great job for us the entire tournament. The only thing you can ask of your leadoff hitter is to get on base and he can get on base and he can fly. He is our fastest guy and he scores a lot of runs for us.”
The Canes took the lead early opening their half of the first inning with three consecutive singles and taking the lead on Chris Pelaez 2-RBI single. Miami added to its margin in the bottom of the second when Brian Fieger drew a lead-off walk, advanced to second on Dale Carey’s sacrifice bunt and came around on Zeke DeVoss’ RBI single back up the middle.
Miami added another run in the fourth when Rony Rodriguez launched his second home run of the tournament and 12th of the season over the Durham ‘Bull’ in left field.
Wake battled back in the sixth and seventh. With two outs Steven Brooks and Conor Keniry delivered back-to-back singles and UM pitched around Wake slugger Mac Williams to pack the sacks. Encinosa issued a full count walk to Matt Conway to plate the Deacons first run of the day. Encinosa gave way to Sargent who forced Lopez to fly out to end the inning leaving the bases loaded. Wake coach Tom Walter knew the needed more from the frame.
“I would have liked to have gotten one more (run) because any time you’re within two, it gives you more options late,” he said. “We knew we weren’t going to get a lot late off [their pen because they’re throwing the ball really well right now. We felt like we had to take advantage of those middle innings.”
In the seventh Wake cut the Cane lead to two as Mark Rhine reached on a one-out single and advanced to second on Charlie Morgan’s pinch-hit single. Rhine would come around to score on Steven Brooks’ two-out, RBI double. Pinch hitter Jack Carey grounded out to end the inning.
That also ended the scoring. The Miami pen shut down the Deacs allowing just one run in 3.1 innings and did not allow a Wake batter to reach base over the final 2.2 innings. Danny Miranda finished the game notching his 14 save of 2011. Morris wouldn’t have it any other way.
“I’m all about the bullpen,” admits Morris. “We’ve played 57 games this year and we no complete games. I believe in going to the bullpen and getting your players used to being in that role. Danny Miranda’s been out there every time, all year in the ninth inning when the games on the line and he’s used to that pressure.”
Miami now awaits it’s seeding and destination for the NCAA Tournament.
#1 Virginia vs. #4 North Carolina
With Sunday’s title match up set between the top-seeded Cavaliers and defending champion Florida State, Saturday evening’s finale was all but a formality. But someone forgot to notify and electric crowd of 5,258 or the two teams. Virginia and North Carolina battled back-and-forth exchanging great pitching, stellar defense and a thrilling 3-2 win for the Hoos.
In a potential Omaha preview two of the nation’s best battled in what UNC head coach Mike Fox called a ‘fun game to watch’.
“Anybody that says this tournament leaves games that nobody cares about, I hope they were watching that game,” said Fox. “I enjoyed the heck [out of the game]. I wish I could be that relaxed every game. I thought as a fan, I loved the crowd it was probably a fun game to watch. I think they want with college baseball now. It’s about pitching, execution and getting a couple of bunts down, getting a two out hit and that the way this game was played.”
Kent Emanuel started for the Heels going five innings, allowing two runs on five hits. Cody Winiarski toed the rubber to open the game for Virginia and went six solid innings before being lifted in the top of the seventh for Scot Silverstein.
The pitching from both clubs was exceptional but Cavalier skipper Brian O’Connor was especially proud of his starter.
He and I met this afternoon and I told him that if there was a situation where Miami beat Wake Forest that he was going to start tonight,” explained O’Connor. “This team means everything to him and I know that he can be confident enough to go out there and give us a quality start and he certainly did. He has a good arm and he was fortunate enough to get his fastball by him a number of times and the confidence that he has now rolling into next weekend is going to be key for our team.”
North Carolina scratched first against Winiarski in the top of the third when Ben Bunting scored on Seth Baldwin’s RBI double. But the Hoos answered as Colin Harrington singled and stole second and came around to knot the game at two on Chris Taylor’s RBI single.
As he did in the third inning Harrington led off the inning with a single and stole second to move into scoring position. Reed Gragnani singled to put runners at the corners. Werman failed to execute the sacrifice bunt and hit a lazy fly ball to shallow left field. That brought Chris Taylor to the plate. The Cavalier shortstop send Emanuel’s 1-0 offering deep to centerfield to score Harrington. John Barr roped a double down the right field line to move Gragnani to third creating a two-out RBI chance for John Hicks. But Emanuel forced Hicks to pop out in foul ground behind first base to end the Wahoo threat.
The back and forth continued as Tommy Coyle opened the Tar Heel sixth with a triple over the head of Gragnani and into the right field gap. Michael grounded out to Werman as Virginia conceded the run and the Heels tied the game at two.
The Cavalier reclaimed the lead for good in the bottom of the seventh.
O’Connor lifted Harrington for the left hand hitting David Coleman and Coleman delivered Virginia’s second lead-off hit of the contest. Fox made to decision to go to southpaw R.C Orlan to face Gragnani. The Cavalier centerfielder drummed a ball into the turf that both Moran from third and Orlan tried to field but with Coleman moving on contact Moran could not recover to get back to third and both Coleman and Gragnani reached safely. Keith Werman laid down a perfect safety squeeze and Stallings could not handle Orlan’s errant throw and Coleman scored to give the Hoos the final margin of victory.
Whit Mayberry shut down the Heels in the seventh and eighth and Branden Kline came on with two outs in the ninth for his 17 save and second of the tournament.
The Heels, like Miami await their NCAA fate and Virginia will face off with FSU today at 1:00 PM for the 2011 ACC Championship.
Biggest winner: Obviously Florida State and Virginia come out as the big winners today. Both clubs earned a spot in ACC title game and both made cases for improved seeding in the upcoming NCAA tournament field. Virginia trying to solidify its case for the top overall seed and Florida State still building its top-8 seed resume.
The Cavaliers will face Florida State in the ACC Tournament Championship game today at 1:00 PM. Virginia and Florida State played three times this season in Charlottesville with all three games being decided by one run or in extra innings. The Hoos took the first two games, both in 11 innings, 4-3 and 5-4 and the Seminoles claimed the series finale 12-11 in a mere 10 innings.
It should be noted that each of the last five ACC Champions – Florida State (2010), Virginia (2009), Miami (2008), North Carolina (2007), Clemson (2006) – have gone on to the College World Series.
Biggest loser: What happened to Wake Forest over the last 24 hours is wrong. The Deacons were forced to start their game against UNC after midnight Saturday morning and complete that game this afternoon just before the start of their third scheduled game of tournament against Miami. To Tom Walter’s clubs credit, they battled the Canes and lost 4-2. I’m not sure there’s a better way to run a conference tournament, but there has to be a better way to manage rain schedules than having a team play 2 ½ games in 18-hour period.