Florida State opened up the season in grand fashion on Friday afternoon in front of 5,354 fans at Dick Howser. The ninth-ranked Seminoles defeated Rhode Island 11-5. It was the 15th straight win on Opening Day for Florida State.
Freshman centerfielder D.J. Stewart debuted with a first inning RBI double. Not to be outdone, two batters later junior college transfer Marcus Davis launched a two-run homer to right in his first at-bat as a Seminole.
Jose Brizuela broke things wide open in the bottom of the sixth with a two-out grand slam. FSU scored 11 runs on seven hits, six walks and five hit by pitches. Nine of the 11 runs were scored with two outs.
"After the nine innings I just saw I was very pleased with the way we played," FSU head coach Mike Martin said. "We had some very good at-bats, some good poise on the mound... You've got guys you were planning on helping us well into May go out there and struggle a little bit, but yet remain poised and gather themselves and get us in the dugout. It's just very encouraging for us as coaches to see our guys perform that way."
FSU posted three runs in the first, behind Stewart's double which scored Justin Gonzalez from first and Davis' homer. The designated hitter from Cincinnati, Ohio made the most of a hitter's count with two outs against Rhode Island starter Mike Bradstreet.
"Early on he started me off with a changeup and then he missed with two fastballs and then I got into a hitter's count and I was just trying to make the best of the next pitch," said Davis, who finished the game 1 for 3 with two RBI and two runs scored. I was looking fastball actually and he gave me one."
FSU added another run in the second on an RBI triple by Gonzalez. The senior shortstop was 1 for 4 with a run scored and two RBI in the game.
Rhode Island finally got on the board in the top of third on a three hit inning off of FSU starter Brandon Leibrandt. The Rams added a two-run homer from Mike Lebel to make it a 7-4 game when Leibrandt left with no outs in the top of the sixth.
The FSU bullpen shut down the Rams the rest of the way, allowing just one run in the final four innings on one hit and four walks.
Leibrandt (1-0) picked up the win as he allowed four runs, all earned, on four hits and a walk in five innings of work.
"I had a pretty good mix (of my pitches)," said Leibrandt, who had six strikeouts. "Fastball was able to locate it. Slider was here and there, changeup was here and there, a little inconsistent but I was encouraged by the way my stuff looked."
The sophomore said the homerun was just a product for losing feel of his breaking ball. Leibrandt was replaced by fellow sophomore Bryant Holtmann worked a pair of scoreless innings. The lefty allowed just one base runner during his outing, and he reached on a walk.
Brizuela gave FSU all the breathing room it would need in the bottom of the sixth on a two-out grand slam. Jameis Winston, who was 0 for 3 with a walk in his FSU debut, struck out to leave the bases loaded for Brizuela. The sophomore third baseman jumped on a 2-2 pitch from Brad Applin for his second-straight opening day homer.
"I was thinking he was going to throw me a changeup but who knows," Brizuela said. "He made a good pitch, it was really low and luckily I put a good swing on it and hit a homerun."
Junior college transfer Robby Coles worked a scoreless eight inning, striking out the first batter he faced, while sophomore Luke Weaver gave up a run on a hit and a walk in the ninth inning. Weaver also struck out two.
Davis said the fact that FSU, a team with plenty of offensive question marks entering the 2013 season, was able to score 11 runs in its opener was big boost to the dugout.
"The buzz around college baseball is that we're going to be relying on pitchers, and we have a great staff, but we have some great hitters too," Davis said. "I think everybody came out today trying to prove that, and just get a good solid win."
FSU and Rhode Island face off again on Saturday at 2 p.m. Senior RHP Scott Sitz will be on the mound for the Seminoles, while the Rams will throw RHP Sean Furney.
Seven different players made their FSU debut on Friday night, including second baseman John Sansone who was 0 for 1 in the game with two walks, a HBP and two runs scored.
The five HBPs were the most for FSU in a game since it took six HBPs on April 28, 2012 against this same Rhode Island team.
Leibrandt is just the sixth FSU starter since 1966 to make consecutive Opening Day starts.