Column: An unexpected farewell

By Nick Sellers

FSView & Florida Flambeau, Florida State U. via UWIRE

It’s difficult to define which is harder to digest: Florida State’s 20th overall appearance in the College World Series without a championship, or Seminoles’ head coach Mike Martin leaving Rosenblatt Stadium for the final time without a title—both instances were undoubtedly proved brutal after the ’Noles made an unexpected exit from this year’s CWS.

Florida State (48-20) was a mere six outs away from facing sixth-ranked UCLA when the day’s mistakes (a season-high five errors) and a persistent TCU team (53-13) finally caught up with FSU, which proved to be the difference in the game.

FSU entered the top half of the eighth inning with a 7-3 lead and reliever Geoff Parker on the mound. Parker, efficient upon relief that previous Monday in the ’Noles’ first elimination game against the Florida Gators, was unexpectedly forced to hand the ball over to closer Mike McGee because of swelling and clear discomfort in his throwing elbow after just three batters.

After TCU’s Brance Rivera grounded into a fielder’s choice that scored Jantzen Witte, who had reached on FSU’s fifth and final error of the day, cutting the lead to three.

An RBI double by Jerome Pena that reduced the lead to 7-5 was followed with a walk to Jason Coats, who loaded the bases and the hearts of TCU players and fans for first baseman, Matt Curry, to capitalize upon.

McGee, who was named as a third team All-American for his efforts as the ’Noles closer, threw a slider to Curry with the count full.

From that pitch on, nothing for the rest of the game was full for FSU as their championship hopes deflated after Curry smashed a go-ahead grandslam to center field.

Casual observers might be quick to point the finger at McGee. To the Seminole faithful, however, watching McGee struggle was like watching Lex Luthor sprinkle Kryptonite in Superman’s Corn Flakes. Although a baseball team is undeniably greater than the sum of its parts, it was McGee that had a walk-off home run and a crucial Game 3 save in Super Regionals that allowed the ’Noles to advance to the College World Series.

“Michael is the reason we’re here,” FSU head coach Mike Martin said. “You can’t go through a season without experiencing some problems. We ran into a hot-hitting ball club that did an outstanding job of getting themselves back in the game.”

After surrendering a single to Josh Elander, McGee was replaced by reliever Hunter Scantling. Scantling gave up a two-run homer to the next batter, Witte, who was up for the second time in the inning, capping off an eight-run eighth inning for the Horned Frogs.

All runs were unearned. The ’Noles committed five errors on the day, leading to nine TCU runs.

“Being up with six outs, you’re definitely expecting to win the game,” said third baseman Sherman Johnson, who, along with shortstop Stephen Cardullo, led the ’Noles with three hits. “It felt like we just couldn’t get out of that inning—felt like we were stuck on the field. Not a good feeling.”

The Seminoles would load the bases in the home half of the eighth, but after a shallow fly-out by McGee, the ‘Noles would get no closer, falling 11-7.

Their defeat marked the 20th time in as many appearances at the CWS that they failed to return to Tallahassee with a championship, the most appearances without a title of any Division I school. The ’Noles consistently attend the final stages of the NCAA Tournament, but have not advanced to the championship round since 1999, where they fell to Miami.

It was their 14th appearance under current head coach Mike Martin, and a win by the ’Noles during the final season at historic Rosenblatt Stadium would have been a fitting final chapter in the drama of college baseball’s home for 65 years. Next season, the Series will move to downtown Omaha and the newly constructed TD Ameritrade Stadium, a place Martin is already planning to visit.

“We played some very good clubs in order to get here,” Martin said. “To all of you, and I mean this, thank you for a great run at Rosenblatt. And I sure want to see you at TD next year.”

So do we, coach.

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