‘Noles bats and bullpen ignite club past Gators in Sunshine Showdown

Florida State University's Daniel Cantu knocks James Tibbs III home from first base. The Gator dugout looks on as the FSU lead extends to three runs in the fifth innng on Tuesday night. Photo courtesy of @FSUBaseball on Twitter.

By: Nicholas Leo

An early first-inning tie was blown out of the water by the fourth, as Florida State University (20-3) rolled past the University of Florida (14-10) 14-3 in the shortened contest. The ranked matchup at 121 Financial Ballpark in Jacksonville on Tuesday night gave Florida State the season series win, their first against Florida since 2015.

Drew Faurot’s two-hit game had a lasting effect on the crowd. Each time he connected with the ball it found its way over an outfield wall, adding to the already-bolstering Seminole lead. Faurot and Daniel Cantu each finished with five RBIs on the night, tying Cantu’s and breaking Faurot’s single-game career-high.

Coming into the contest, the Seminoles had lost the last six meetings between the two in Duval County. Following the win, Florida State still trails the Gators in the neutral-site matchup nine to seven.

Florida came into Jacksonville hot off a College World Series rematch with #5 LSU, where they dropped the first game before rallying over the next two games to win the series. The Seminoles, picking themselves up after three straight losses to Clemson this past weekend, dropped from #12 to #17 on D1Baseball’s national rankings ahead of the interstate rivalry.

“Our response today was as good a response of any team I’ve ever coached,” Florida State head coach Link Jarrett said. “That response of those guys in the dugout that went through just an agonizing three-game series and an eight-hour bus ride home, to jump back on the bus to roll in here, the way we felt; I can not say enough about their response and delivery of a great performance today.”

The Gators and Seminoles played the same cards as their previous meeting, once again starting Florida freshman Alex Philpott against Seminole senior Andrew Armstrong on the mound. Neither lasted long, but the tale of the tape was bullpen efficiency, as the four-pitcher Florida State rotation held the Gator offense to just a single hit after the first inning.

The Game

An emphatic three-pitch K to open the game, the Seminoles responded by rallying three consecutive hits off Philpott to load the bases. Florida State’s Cam Smith singled through the gap to left field, James Tibbs III dropped a fly ball just out of reach of the retreating infield, and Jamie Ferrer trickled a ball slow enough down the third base line to beat out the throw to first. Daniel Cantu lasered a ball down the right field line the next at bat, clearing the bases with a three-run RBI double.

“It’s pretty easy when you’ve got guys one through nine that deliver every time and just take the pressure off each other,” Cantu said. “If one guy doesn’t deliver the next guy’s going to.”

Jac Caglione (left) crosses home-plate and celebrates with Colby Shelton (back), Tyler Shelnut (center) and Ty Evans (right) following his first-inning blast. Photo courtesy of @GatorsBB on Twitter.

Answering in the bottom half of the inning, the Gators first three batters crossed the dish on a long fly ball courtesy of Jac Caglianone.

Armstrong threw just two strikes through his first two batters faced, allowing the game’s first walk and a Ty Evans single into right field. Caglianone took a hitter’s count yard, the ball finding its way over the wall in left field just inside the foul pole, notching the score at three a piece. We got ourselves a ballgame.

Both pitchers stopped the bleeding after the three early runs, Philpott getting help from his backing field as Armstrong did it himself, striking out two and catching a line drive at his head to escape the first inning jam.

Taking that momentum into the second and third, Philpott held the Gators to just one baserunner over the two-inning stretch. Armstrong’s day ended after the first, Florida State opted to go to the bullpen for Joe Charles, who would efficiently put down six of his seven batters faced.

The bullpen for each ballclub could not have been more different, like yin and yang after the second inning. The Gators searched through their bullpen, making constant changes at the mound, trying to find a look that would slow down the hot Seminole bats.

A one-two-three fifth inning for John Abraham, retiring the side and adding two strikeouts to his career-high five K night. Photo courtesy of @FSUBaseball on Twitter.

FSU trusted their relievers through rough at-bats, instilling confidence in the pitchers chosen to take the mound that carried throughout innings. Seminoles’ pitching coach Micah Posey told the bullpen before the game to keep the pressure on and attack hitters.

“Don’t be scared and take your foot off the gas because that’s when bad stuff happens, so I was just going right at them and it worked out well today,” Abraham said.

Faurot opened up the game’s scoring again in the fourth for the Seminoles, the wind carrying his well-hit ball just over Florida center fielder Michael Robertson’s extended arm. The next at-bat nearly had the same result.

Jaxson West hit a ball deep past the left field fence, landing just outside the foul pole. He’d single down the right-field line on the next pitch, and that was all she wrote for Philpott; recording five earned runs, seven hits and one K through 3.1 innings. Ryan Slater took the bump and gave up an untimely RBI single to the ‘Noles Max Williams, making it a 5-3 ballgame in FSUs favor.

Extending their lead in the fifth and sixth, Florida State Tibbs III from first to the plate on a Cantu double down the line in left, extending the lead to three. To the disappointing delight of the third base coach, Tibbs III rounded the bag as the coach screamed for him to hold, reaching safety and driving Slater out of the game after just one inning.

As the Gators reached deeper into their bullpen looking for answers, the ‘Noles swung tougher questions their way. In the sixth inning, a man on first base with two outs soon turned to a runner in scoring position by way of a wild pitch, to which the top of the FSU lineup capitalized. Smith ripped an RBI double to the base of the center field wall, and Tibbs III knocked him in with a single of his own the next at-bat.

Charles pitched his way to a win and handed the ball to John Abraham, who would lead the FSU bullpen through a career-high 3.1 innings recording five Ks, two walks and zero runs.

“You could see he had it going a little bit and we had the momentum, and it’s just nice to feel comfortable with a freshman in that situation to just let him go,” Jarrett said.

The seventh was highlighted by the innings’ very first pitch, Cantu hitting a moonshot over the right-field wall as the FSU faithful in attendance gasped in awe at the continued hot streak from the Seminole offense.

The crowd’s loudest eruption and Faurot’s second home run of the day came with the bases loaded in the eighth. After walking a run in the Gators sixth pitcher of the night, Grayson Smith, gave way to an opposite-field rocket. Faurot’s long fly ball pushed the Seminoles past the threshold for the 10-run rule, leading the Gators 14-3, and their disciples in attendance into a tomahawk-chopping frenzy.

The Fresh From Florida Sunshine Showdown attracted 7,710 fans, many of whom were friends and family of players, to 121 Financial Ballpark in Jacksonville on Tuesday night.

“I would say I had about fifty watching for me tonight, and the ‘Noles,” Cantu said. “I grew up watching this game and now I’m playing in it, so this is pretty cool stuff.”

The Seminoles resume playing on Thursday at home, facing off against Louisville in Tallahassee at 6 p.m. The Gators look to bounce back on Friday in Gainesville as they take on Mississippi State, with the first pitch scheduled for 6:30 p.m.

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