Florida State pitchers were in trouble nearly every inning Friday night. But they kept battling and kept receiving defensive plays that got them out of jams.
Sherman Johnson scored both of FSU's run Friday night, and provided a defensive gem that kept UAB from tying the game.
Gage Smith pitched 3.2 scoreless innings – just hours after receiving nine stitches to his lip and cheek in the clubhouse after being accidently hit by a bat – and Robert Benincasa recorded his 14th save as FSU held on for a 2-1 win over UAB on Friday night in the Tallahassee Regional.
“It was a game that many, many people contributed, which has been the success of this club all year,” FSU coach Mike Martin said.
FSU (44-15) won its 14th straight NCAA regional game. The Seminoles will now play Samford (40-21), which stunned Mississippi State 5-0 in Friday’s afternoon game, on Saturday at 7 p.m.
Mississippi State (39-23) will face UAB (32-29) in an elimination game on Saturday at noon.
Scott Sitz had eight strikeouts in 4.1 innings but ran into trouble in every inning with the exception of a 1-2-3 first. In the fifth, after a single and double to lead off the inning, UAB’s John Frost tied the game with an RBI groundout.
With runners on third and second, FSU turned to Smith. While he induced a ground ball to the first hitter, Patrick Palmeiro, it was a high chopper that Sherman Johnson, who was playing in, had to go up and grab. Johnson then fired home to Stephen McGee, who tagged out Ivan De Jesus.
“When he hit it, I was just trying to catch it,” Johnson said. “To be honest with you, I thought he was going to beat it, but that was the only play (at home).”
Sherman Johnson scored both of FSU's runs Friday night, and provided a defensive gem that kept UAB from tying the game.
Said Martin: “Our program is about pitching and defense. The play Sherman made is right up there with the ones that you remember.”
Smith (4-0) then got out of the inning with another groundout, and he tacked on three more scoreless innings. He had three strikeouts and scattered three hits.
The sophomore right-hander was in FSU’s clubhouse before the game and was accidentally hit on the mouth when catcher Stephen McGee was taking some practice swings.
He immediately received the stitches and appeared calm and composed on the mound.
“We had a bunch of key defensive plays,” Smith said. “It’s not hard pitching when you got them behind you.”
Benincasa allowed a one-out double by De Jesus in the ninth but then got Frost and Palmeiro, the son of retired major league star Rafael Palmeiro, to fly out to end the game.
UAB missed chances to score runs, stranding 12 runners in the game. The Blazers also received a strong outing from right-hander Michael Busby, who allowed just five hits in eight innings.
“I thought he threw a heck of a game and gave us a chance to win,” UAB coach Brian Shoop said. “… We certainly had opportunities. We left 12 on so we certainly had our chances but didn’t come through tonight.”
On Saturday, FSU and Samford (40-21) will throw their aces. Freshman left-hander Brandon Leibrandt (6-2, 2.91 ERA) will take the mound for the Seminoles against Samford right-hander Josh Martin (12-1, 2.96 ERA).
It certainly won’t be the expected FSU-Mississippi State matchup. Earlier on Friday, Samford smacked four home runs – including a Division-I leading 24th homer by Brandon Miller – and defeated Mississippi State ace Chris Stratton to earn the win.
“Samford is an impressive looking club,” Martin said. “To hit four home runs is pretty doggone impressive. Plus their No. 1 is pitching tomorrow. It’s setting up to be a very exciting weekend.”