The way Seminole starter Brandon Leibrandt is going right now, even an unseasonably cold Saturday night could not quell his hot run.
With temperatures hovering in the 50's for most of the game, Leibrandt (7-4) offered his third top-caliber start in four tries, pacing Florida State (37-9) to a 6-1 victory over Central Florida (26-21).
"There's no two ways about it, it was a good win," said head coach Mike Martin. "Obviously the conditions were tough for both clubs, Leibrandt did a very good job, Gage (Smith) did an outstanding job and let's face it, that's what it's about."
After elevating his pitches in the first inning, Leibrandt settled down to toss a gem. His 109-pitch outing went seven innings, yielding just one unearned run while featuring nine strikeouts against one walk. As his line suggests, the sophomore lefty relayed he had high-level command of all his pitches against a righty-loaded UCF lineup.
"Pretty good stuff tonight," Leibrandt said. "I was able to make some pitches here and there, great defense behind me - some of the best catches I've ever seen - but no doubt it was a great team win."
That Leibrandt mentioned the defensive effort was only right, as outfielder Seth Miller and infielders Giovanny Alfonzo and John Nogowski took turns wowing the 4,215 in attendance at Dick Howser Stadium. Whether it was Alfonzo's leaping stab on a liner to left, Miller's Willie Mays-esque catch in deep right center or Nogowski's over the shoulder effort in foul territory, Florida State more than made up for two errors and an unearned blemish on Leibrandt's ledger.
"It just kills the rally," Leibrandt said of the big plays.
Offensively, the Seminole approach was in full implementation. Florida State earned eight walks in eight innings in addition to five hit batters. After looking stellar through five outs, Central Florida starter Chris Matulis (5-3) became erratic, ultimately tossing 107 pitches over just 4-1/3 innings while being tagged for six runs (five earned).
The Seminoles broke through in the home fifth inning, extending a 2-1 advantage to 6-1. The biggest hit of the inning - and the night - belonged to freshman Jameis Winston who plated two runs on a hard-hit bouncer past Knights' third baseman Austin Johnson and up the left field line. Winston was the lone Seminole to register a multi-hit game in a 2-for-3 night.
"Bases loaded, you've got to get the job done," Winston said. "Luckily it was one out, so I didn't have that much pressure on me."
The Seminoles needed only one reliever thanks to Leibrandt's lengthy night. The sophomore returned to the hill for the seventh, despite a pitch count in the high 90's, before giving way to Gage Smith, who retired the last six Knights.
UCF was the first to score Saturday night as it used a Jose Brizuela throwing error (Brizuela's 18th of the season) to manufacture a run. Beyond the error in the third, Leibrandt allowed just six other Knights to reach base. The sophomore's effort was the third time in four starts that he completed at least seven innings, the fourth consecutive game he surrendered two runs or less, and the fourth consecutive game he struck out seven or more.
"Guys just kept on battling, scrapping, clawing," Martin said. "I'm just very proud of them."
Florida State looks for the sweep Sunday afternoon when it sends Scott Sitz to the mound for a scheduled 1 P.M. start. Sitz's opponent has not been announced.
Leibrandt had four Knight baserunners fooled by his pickoff move, and if not for two execution errors, he would have retired all four of them. Martin called Leibrandt a "polished" left-handed pitcher in the realm of the pickoff move, and to his recollection, Leibrandt said he couldn't think of a start where he successfully fooled that many runners.
Florida State stranded 14 baserunners in all, including 11 in a four inning stretch.
Dating back to Luke Weaver's Friday start against Wake Forest, Seminole starting pitching has allowed just three runs (two earned) in 33 innings.