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Omaha bound: Florida State beats Vandy, 7-6

Photo by Danny Aller

Photo by Danny Aller

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. -- Sherman Johnson's boyhood dreams came true Sunday.

A year ago, as a freshman, a skinny Johnson sat and watched Florida State for most of the season. He got into a handful of games as a pinch-runner, but never got the playing time he wanted.

But 12 months and 30 pounds later, the non-scholarship walk-on from Tampa finished a sterling Super Regional Tournament with a bases-clearing double that sent the Seminoles to the College World Series for the 20th time in school history with a 7-6 win against Vanderbilt.

"This has been the biggest game I've played in," said Johnson, who came to Florida State because he'd followed the team since grade school. "It's always been my dream."

But a year ago, that's just about all it was.

Now he's part of the Seminole baseball legacy that he'd followed so closely growing up.

"He came up with one of the biggest hits of the year," Florida State coach Mike Martin said.

Amazingly, no school -- not even one -- offered the smooth-fielding, hard-hitting, late bloomer anything.

"With everybody telling you you're too small, everybody telling you you're not good enough and still have the willpower to fight and fight and fight and do what he's done this year is just amazing," Florida State home run leader and closer Mike McGee said. "If you worked as hard as he worked, you can get better. Just look at Sherman."

The Seminoles (47-18) were up 4-3 when Johnson slammed a 2-2 pitch into the right center-field gap to clear the bases. Vanderbilt chose to walk Florida State's Tyler Holt and have right-hander Chase Reid pitch to the left-handed-hitting Johnson, who had driven in one of Florida State's second inning runs and had six RBI in the three Super Regional games.

"It was a tough call. Holt's their go-to guy," Vanderbilt coach Tim Corbin said. "(But) that's what we did and that's what you've got to live with."

Vanderbilt (46-20) scored three runs in the bottom of the ninth before McGee struck out Joe Loftus to end the Commodores' bid for their first CWS appearance.

"It stinks," said Corbin, referring to the school year having already ended. "Baseball is a cruel sport in the fact that once it ends, you may never see your kids again."

Sean Gilmartin (9-7) got the win and McGee survived the rocky ninth for his 12th save.

Jack Armstrong (7-4) took the loss for Vanderbilt.

For the second time in the three-game series, Florida State jumped to an early lead. The Seminoles, who led 6-0 after two innings in Friday's opener, went up, 4-0, on Sunday as Vanderbilt starter Jack Armstrong was gone after just 27 pitches, giving up four runs while getting just four outs.

"We got ourselves back in the game and gave ourselves a chance," Corbin said.

Stephen Cardullo homered to start the four-run second inning while Holt greeted reliever Drew Hayes with a two-run double.

The Seminoles threatened again in the third, but Vandy escaped undamaged when Hayes fanned Rafael Lopez and Cardullo was thrown out trying to steal third base on the play.

Both teams missed several scoring opportunities in the game with a total of 17 runners stranded. Vanderbilt left the bases loaded twice.

McGee struck out Curt Casali with the bases loaded to end the seventh after Vanderbilt had scored twice in the inning to pull within 4-3.

McGee replaced Gilmartin after Aaron Westlake doubled in a run following an RBI single by Anthony Gomez. McGee, who fanned five in 2 1-3 innings, hit Jason Esposito before he got Casali on a checked swing.

The Commodores scored their first run on Jason Esposito's RBI single in the fourth when they chased Florida State starter Geoff Parker, but reliever Sean Gilmartin struck out Mike Yastrzemski on a checked swing and got Andrew Giobbi on a ground ball stranding three Vandy baserunners.