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May 18, 2013
For the second straight series, they made it hard on themselves. And for the second time in a row, they came out ahead.
In the span of 22 hours, Florida State's designs of an Atlantic Division crown went from in doubt to in hand. The eighth-ranked Seminoles (44-11, 20-10 ACC) closed out No. 19 Clemson (39-17, 18-12) 6-1 Saturday afternoon to take the series and the second seed in next week's ACC Tournament.
It is Florida State's seventh consecutive division title.
"The guys in that clubhouse are the ones who should be out here doing this (interview)," said head coach Mike Martin. "Those guys deserve all the credit... That was a very interesting baseball game that was just played."
Interesting in that Florida State pitching allowed 13 Clemson hits and 16 baserunners, yet it surrendered merely one run. Seminole starter Brandon Leibrandt (9-4) pitched around some trouble in his five-plus innings, but no situation was more critical than that of the sixth inning, where Billy Strode was called upon to put out a fire.
Strode arrived on the mound in a 3-1 game with runners on first and second, no outs, and promptly surrendered an infield single off a perfect bunt by Thomas Brittle. With the bases loaded and facing a 3-1 count, Strode fought back to strike out Tyler Slaton looking on the outside corner. He then induced a shallow fly ball to right and a soft liner to second base to escape the threat, rendering he and Leibrandt blemish free for the frame.
"That was no question the biggest part of the ballgame," said Martin.
"It was a blast out there," Strode added. "It was an absolute blast."
The FSU bats countered with 13 hits of their own, and arguably no hit was bigger than Seth Miller's single in the home sixth. Miller, who replaced starter Brett Knief in center field to face right-handed pitching, plated two important insurance runs to extend FSU's advantage to 5-1. That the hit came following Clemson's theatrical top-half meant the momentum truly resided back in the Seminole dugout.
Strode completed the final four innings for the Seminoles, earning his first save. The sophomore allowed four hits, went without a walk, and struck out two in a 50-pitch performance.
Florida State's offense was led by the top of its order (hitter's 1-5), which went a combined 6-for-18 with three runs scored and four RBI. Left fielder D.J. Stewart and catcher Stephen McGee each went 2-for-3.
The Seminole defense was highlighted by the much-discussed right arm of right fielder Jameis Winston. Winston contributed a key outfield assist in the seventh inning, when he gunned down Garrett Boulware on a first-to-third baserunning attempt. Winston's laser from right-center sent the 4,979 in attendance into a frenzy while preventing a two-on, one-out jam.
Florida State moves on to a recently-scheduled single game with ACC regular season champion North Carolina. The game, set for a 6 p.m. start Monday evening (TV: ESPNU), does not count towards ACC play. Florida State officially lists the probable starter as TBA.
The schedule for next week's ACC Tournament will be released by Sunday evening.
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