Durham, NC – – The extra inning magic continues for Florida State.
Reese Albert’s two-out double off the wall in right scored Drew Mendoza from first base and lifted the sixth-seeded and defending champion Seminoles to a 3-2 win over No. 10 seed Virginia in Atlantic Coast Conference Baseball Championship Pool C action Tuesday afternoon.
Florida State (40-17) won in extra innings for the third time in less than a week, the fourth time during the month of May and the sixth time this season. Albert delivered the walk-off heroics for the second time in five days after hitting a three-run homer in the bottom of the 11th to give the Seminoles a 6-3 win over NC State last Friday night in the next-to-last game of the regular season.
Albert’s clutch double on Tuesday ended a marathon that had been tied at 2-2 since Virginia’s Nate Eikhoff delivered a sacrifice fly in the top of the fourth inning to scored Andy Weber from third. Weber had singled and moved into scoring position on Alex Tappen’s double.
Florida State scored its first two runs on RBI doubles by Cal Raleigh and Steven Wells in the first and third innings. Virginia’s first run came in the top of the third, when Cayman Richardson doubled and scored on Justin Novak’s single to right-center.
Both teams could look back at a number of missed opportunities, but one of the most notable came in the top of the eighth inning when the Cavaliers (28-25) loaded the bases with one out. FSU head coach Mike Martin summoned Clayton Kwiatkowski from the bullpen, and the sophomore lefthander responded by striking out Virginia No. 4 and No. 5 hitters Tappen and Eikhoff – on six pitches – to keep the score deadlocked.
Kwiatkowsi (4-1) picked up the win after working the final 3.2 innings without allowing a hit. He walked three batters and struck out four.
Andrew Abbott, who came on in relief of starter Daniel Lynch at the outset of the eighth inning, took the loss for Virginia despite a solid 3.2 innings stint in which he allowed only two hits and struck out five batters without issuing a walk. The Cavaliers slipped to 10-10 this season in games decided by one run.
Post Game Interviews:
MIKE MARTIN: Rarely do you think this, but knowing Brian and everybody on their staff, it’s a shame that somebody had to lose that ballgame, because it was a well-played game, one error, the pitching was excellent, the defense was excellent. It was just one of those games in which our ballclub happened to come out on top.
But let’s don’t even think of short-changing anything that our baseball team accomplished because there were times when we had our backs against the wall. Clayton comes in and gets us out of it. We struggled offensively, and Reese picks us up in the 21st or whatever innings. We’ve played a number of these babies — what did we play, 12? 11?
But I think when you look at the overall performance of both teams, you have to be proud to be a part of this great league that we play in. This is a heck of a league. But I’m also extremely proud of the way our guys battled. There was no folding the tent. Lynch and Abbott pitched extremely well for the other club. There was no pouting. There was no bickering. It was just total focus on somebody pick us up. This particular time, these are two of the guys that picked us up. The big double play that we got, I believe that was in the eighth, there was just so many big moments in the game that our young men performed very well, and I’m very proud of them.
Q. Clayton, when you came in the eighth inning what was kind of your plan there, and after you get Tappen, do you feel the confidence start to rise there?
CLAYTON KWIATKOWSKI: Yeah, whenever you come in, you’ve got to expect there to be guys on, and if they’re not, then they’re not, but being in the bullpen everybody wants to pick each other up, have each other’s backs, and I’ve came in in a couple bases-loaded situations this year, which probably really helped my confidence out in that scenario, and just coming in, I knew Pollock threw really well, and I just wanted to have his back and do my best to throw the pitches that Coach Bell called, fill up the strike zone, and it just worked out in my favor. Initially you’re just working for a ground ball, let your defense do the work because you trust those guys behind you, and it just happened to go in my favor, two strikeouts.
Q. Reese, when you got to see Andrew Abbott again, did that impact you at all, just getting a second opportunity?
REESE ALBERT: Well, the whole day for both of their pitchers, I only saw two fastballs. The rest were curveball, slider. So coming up there for the second time against Abbott, I had a feeling he was going to try to flip one in again, and he was staying more on my side of the plate than throwing it away, so I just sat on it.
Q. Could you talk about the format and the kind of pressure it put on both these teams today?
MIKE MARTIN: Well, we as coaches voted to have 12 teams in our tournament. It’s extremely difficult to work it out without discussion among other people. We have just learned to accept it. I’m sure there will be further discussion. But there’s certainly no complaining from any of us. It’s just that if there is something that can be done to make it better, then that’s what we will attempt to do.
Q. Mike, have you ever won so many challenges in a game as you did today?
MIKE MARTIN: Well, we just thought that we had a legitimate challenge, and we utilized it, and it just happened to go our way. You never — there’s so many funny stories I could tell you this year. I mean, one time I didn’t even want to do it because I said there’s no way, he’s safe. And I don’t know why, I went ahead and challenged it, and I’ll be doggone if he wasn’t out.
And when I found out what had happened, I just shook my head. I didn’t see that from where I was. But it’s just luck. I think it has done a tremendous — I think it’s been a tremendous boost to college baseball to have this system in place. We utilize it at home. Everybody, almost everybody is utilizing it, and it’s very important because there’s a lot at stake. There is a lot at stake. And I thought that throughout the year, the umpires have been extremely professional. There hasn’t been any of this, look, yeah, right, I missed that. They’ve been as professional as the day is long. They’ve gone back there, they’ve looked at it. Of course they didn’t have to do that today because there were two other people looking at it, but during the regular season they would go back there and diligently look at it, come back, make the call, and that was good enough for me.
They busted their fanny to try to get every call right, and that’s a credit to them.
Q. I know you had high hopes for Reese coming in as a freshman, and it seemed like he’s really come on strong, especially down the stretch. How have you seen him develop over the course of the year, and how much confidence is he playing with right now?
MIKE MARTIN: I think to try to answer your second question first, he just is comfortable in his own shoes. He’s not one that gets down when he does things that he knows he can’t do and be the kind of baseball player he wants to be. The more he plays, the more he improves. I’ve been impressed with him because he came in as a center fielder, and we moved him to right. We platooned him with Wells. He was doing a very good job there. I didn’t see him playing this much, but he’s the kind of player that was determined he was going to be seen. So he goes out there pregame, and he’s busting his fanny to be a great right fielder, and he’s working every single day, taking balls off the bat, and he knows I’m watching them, but then on the other hand there were some times he couldn’t find me. But he’s still out there working.
Well, J.C. gets hurt in Central, he goes and plays some center field. Did a very good job. That’s what he played in high school. Then we get J.C. back, we put him in left field, what’s he do, he goes out there and learns how to play left field in a couple of weeks.
I think number one, it’s a dedication to hard work and not ever doubting yourself. I think that describes Reese Albert.
BRIAN O’CONNOR: Yeah, just start off by saying that Florida State has got a really nice ballclub. We didn’t get a chance to play them this year, and I thought that they pitched really well. Certainly their first two pitchers are freshmen, and they proved that there’s a very, very bright future in their program from a pitching standpoint, and they look to have a very nice offensive ballclub and good defense. Just really well-rounded club, like Coach Martin typically has. Credit to them. They did a great job. They beat us. I thought Daniel Lynch was tremendous against a really good offensive ballclub.
That team is tough to put away, and certainly the first time around the order, they battled Daniel and battled him all day, and he started to settle in and get a few strikeouts and things like that and made some good pitches for us. I thought Abbott was tremendous for us out of the pen, as well. I hated to see him lose that game, but credit them. The kid put a good swing on the ball.
Q. Andrew, can you take us through that at-bat, were you starting to feel a little bit of fatigue kind of going into the fourth inning there?
ANDREW ABBOTT: I wasn’t starting to feel any fatigue, I just think that it was a matter of they were coming up with a game plan against me since they had seen me one time through the order, so this was the second time through. So they definitely had some knowledge of what I’ve thrown to them in the first at-bat, now what they’re going to get in the second at-bat. I messed up on one pitch and he put a good pitch on it. My outing can’t be defined by one pitch.
Q. Daniel, just talk about your last — possibly your last outing here. What were your emotions out there?
DANIEL LYNCH: I mean, I tried not to think about it like that. I just tried to treat it like a normal game. But I know once I came out and Abbott went in, I had a lot of confidence about him, and I thought he battled like — I mean, I’m so proud of what he did. You know, it’s kind of tough, just starting to sink in that this will probably be my last start. But I’m proud of the team. I thought we fought really hard after I gave up two early, and I thought our offense battled all day, and we played good defense. Sometimes it doesn’t turn out your way.
Q. Andy, because of the format of this tournament, this was essentially an elimination game. Does that change things for you as players at all going into your first game of the tournament knowing you have to win?
ANDY WEBER: No. I think our mentality always is — you want to win. So I mean, we still have to play a second game on Thursday against NC State, and we’re still going to come out and try to win, and we’re going to have to battle hard like we did today, and we’ll see what we can do and see if we can finish the season off with a win.
Q. Andy, when you look back at this game, will you kind of remember a lot of the missed opportunities, obviously not just you but a lot of the players had, a lot of base runners, stuff like that?
ANDY WEBER: I mean, yeah, we had a couple opportunities to capitalize on, and we didn’t, and some days that’s the game. That’s baseball. I think you’ve just got to take it for what it is, and we just didn’t execute what we were supposed to, and we didn’t come out on top.
Q. Andrew, what do you think this outing today and in this setting will do for you going forward?
ANDREW ABBOTT: I think it just gives me confidence to go out there and compete with the best teams. Florida State was ranked pretty high, I believe, in the nation, so just going out there knowing that I can stay with them and compete with them as Daniel did before me and my teammates did hitting-wise and off their pitchers and things. It just gives me a lot of confidence going into next year.
Q. Brian, you’ve had a lot of good pitchers here; Daniel had more ups and downs than some of your really good ones have had early in their career, and he finished strong like this. How far has he come over his three seasons as a pitcher?
BRIAN O’CONNOR: Well, I think it’s a great question. I’m really, really proud of Daniel Lynch. I think it shows you the kind of man he is, right, that it’s not necessarily how you start your career, it’s how you continue to develop and how you finish your career. You know, he’s a winner. He’s been in our rotation for three years, and he’s grown through his time here. I’m just really, really proud of him. He learned how to really, really compete, and he had some tough days, as you can have in this league, right, through his career, and it humbles you pretty quick at this level. I’ll tip my cap to him because he continued to grind, he continued to be just consumed with working and getting better. You never have to tell Daniel Lynch that he needs to be in the weight room at 7:30 in the morning the next morning after his start. He’s there, he’s dependable, he’s a great teammate, and certainly really, really proud of how he learned to compete and continued to make pitches in the clutch. He did that again today.
Q. One thing that kind of surprised us watching the game is the mental baserunning errors that your team made, which we think is kind of uncommon for your team to make those kinds of mistakes. Was it because they were pressing knowing that this was a one-and-done situation for you?
BRIAN O’CONNOR: Well, I’m not sure. I mean, I’ll never make excuses for them, certainly. They need to be accountable for those decisions that they made. You know, certainly there is a miscommunication from — in the third inning where we had runners on first and second, no outs, Tanner Morris up, 3-2 count. We didn’t execute what we needed to do in that situation. As it turned out, there ended up being a runner at second base, two outs, and completely different ballgame, and I think we let them off the hook a little bit with that. Alex Tappen got picked off at second base. That’s uncharacteristic of him. He’s grown into being a pretty mature player. He understands that that can’t happen, right.
And then Nate Eikhoff, I think it was in the seventh inning went to third base on a ball in front of him, which is one of the golden rules that you don’t break in baserunning.
We’ll discuss it. Were they putting pressure on themselves, I don’t know, but certainly I appreciate you recognizing that it’s uncharacteristic of this program to do that. We haven’t done much of those kind of things the whole year.
In summary I’d like to say that I would much rather have a player and a team that presses and wants to win and wants to press the envelope than being tentative. Although they’re baserunning mistakes, I’d rather have them be aggressive and want to win so bad that they make mistakes.
Q. You obviously addressed yesterday that if you didn’t win today that — or win four games that you weren’t going to make the NCAA tournament. What’s kind of the reaction as being the first time that’s not happened for your program?
BRIAN O’CONNOR: I can’t give you a reaction because the game ended 10 minutes ago. We’ll talk about it as a team. I mean, there’s no built-in reaction. It’s disappointing. I mean, we lost a ballgame. I don’t — I can probably speak for the players that we don’t immediately respond to things and have emotions that, hey, maybe we won’t be going to the NCAA tournament. There will be another time that we assess that. We’re here, we’re here to play baseball. We’ve got practice tomorrow. We’ve got another game on Thursday, and that’s what we’ll be consumed with, and then we’ll analyze that when it’s done and determine where we go from there.
Q. Brian, you’ve coached in a lot of extra-inning games. How big an advantage is it to be the home team in that situation?
BRIAN O’CONNOR: Oh, it’s certainly an advantage, there’s no question. I mean, you can — although none of the situations really played out, but you can certainly manage the game a little bit differently. But that didn’t have anything to do with the outcome. I don’t know what the statistics are, but I would imagine that the home team in extra innings wins certainly a greater majority of the games. You just get a chance to have that last at-bat and stuff.
But credit to them. I thought Abbott was locked in, he was great, and in this game when you’re playing a good opponent, you make one mistake, it can cost you, and certainly that’s what happened.