By Joe Foreman
OMAHA, Neb. – Mike Martin refused to let his players hang their heads after a disappointing 4-3 loss to Arizona in 12 innings Friday night at the NCAA College World Series.
“We just tip our hat to the University of Arizona,” Martin said. “I was very pleased with our guys and the way we played. It’s one of those situations where there’s nobody to blame. It’s a good game of baseball. It’s just that the team I wanted to win didn’t.
Martin said he was proud of the way his team battled back from a 3-1 deficit to tie the game in the sixth inning on a two-run double by freshman John Holland and was pleased by the pitching performances of freshman starter Brandon Leibrandt and relievers Gage Smith, Hunter Scantling and closer Robert Benincasa.
Leibrandt pitched 4 1/3 innings, giving up six hits and two earned runs. He recorded five strikeouts.
“I thought he had another outstanding outing,” Martin said. “Brandon was poised. To come in and start a College World Series as a 19-year-old freshman, I was just very, very excited for him the way he worked.”
Benincasa worked the final four innings of the game and surrendered just two hits – back-to-back doubles by Joey Rickard and Johnny Field in the top of the 12th inning. Martin said Benincasa, who struck out five Wildcat batters, was nearing his maximum pitch count when he gave up the go-ahead run on the pair of doubles.
“Benny has just been a workhorse and just a tremendous lift to our baseball team all year,” Martin said.
Arizona coach Andy Lopez said before the game that senior James Ramsey was the FSU player that concerned his staff the most. The Seminole centerfielder went 1-for-3 with two walks and two strikeouts.
“We walked him twice. That was not part of the plan,” Lopez said. “I thought it was a big at- bat when (Tyler) Crawford struck him out late in the game.”
The opening-round loss sends Florida State (48-16) into a 5 p.m. (EDT) elimination game on Sunday against Stony Brook (52-14), a 9-1 loser to UCLA Friday afternoon. Martin said he and his players are looking forward to the matchup with the Seawolves, who are making their first appearance ever in the CWS.
“That is a beautiful baseball team. Seven players drafted is clear evidence that they’re very, very talented,” Martin said. “We know we’re going to have our work cut out for us. We know that both teams are going to be looking at going home. Neither team wants to go home. That’s an exciting day for college baseball. I know one thing, both teams will be out there getting after it.”
FSU third baseman Sherman Johnson said Friday night’s loss hasn’t dashed the Seminoles' hopes of winning the national championship in Omaha.
“It was a tough game, but in the huddle coach was talking about what South Carolina did two years ago when they lost their first game,” Johnson said. “He was just saying, ‘Why couldn’t it be us?’ I think it’s the mindset everyone is going to take on coming forward. It’s tough, but we’ll forget about it and we’ll be ready to go Sunday.”
Arizona (44-17) will meet Pac-12 rival UCLA (48-14) in Sunday night’s winner’s bracket game.
*** FSU has now lost four straight College World Series openers. The Seminoles' last win in the first round of the CWS was a 7-3 victory over Texas A&M in 1999.
*** The ‘Noles are 3-1 in extra-inning games in 2012. Their last extra-inning loss before Friday night came on March 23, 2011, against Stetson (6-4 in 11 innings).
***Florida State is 13-3 in one-run games this season.
*** FSU closer Robert Benincasa had not allowed an earned run in 13 of his past 14 outings prior Friday night, in which he allowed the go-ahead Arizona run in the top of the 12th.
*** The last time Florida State played at least 12 innings was on May 4, 2010, an 11-10 win over Jacksonville in 13 innings.
*** A good omen for Arizona - the last five teams to win an extra-inning game in the CWS have gone on to win the national championship - South Carolina in 2011 (2), South Carolina in 2010 (2) and LSU in 2009.