Florida State right fielder Jameis Winston can’t make a diving catch in Saturday’s 10-9 loss to Indiana in Game 1 of the Super Regional matchup.
TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — Indiana began its baseball season with a hand-written check list of 10 lofty goals, the final of which was advancing to its first College World Series.
In 24 hours, the Hoosiers may very well be getting out their pencils and packing their bags.
In the first stunner of the NCAA Super Regionals on Saturday, unseeded Indiana — which had never even advanced to a Super Regional before this season — chopped down national powerhouse and No. 7 seed Florida State, 10-9, in front a raucous Dick Howser Stadium crowd that likely left feeling punched in the gut following what felt like a can’t-miss, ninth-inning rally that somehow evaporated before their eyes.
Walking off the field, the Hoosiers’ celebration was subdued, featuring more exhaling than chest-bumping, while the Seminoles’ heads hung low.
But not for very long.
“That’s why it’s the greatest game in the world,” said FSU coach Mike Martin, who is in his 34th year in Tallahassee. “We have guys that have done things this year that have just been unbelievable. No doubt in my mind we were going to tie it and there was a good feeling that we were going to win it, but that happens every night in the major leagues. That’s what makes this time of the year so exciting, because it’s magnified because it’s the Super Regional. (Today), God willing the sun is going to come up. It ain’t over. We are going to play our butts off (today).”
The loss Saturday by the Seminoles (47-16), who hold the NCAA record for the most Regional and Super Regional wins (149), sets up a must-win Game 2 today at 1 p.m. if they hope to make the school’s 22nd trip to Omaha.
But if they don’t, the offseason will be filled with plenty of “what-ifs” about those final three outs Saturday.
Trailing, 10-8, entering the bottom of the ninth, a picture-perfect scenario unfolded for Florida State: Indiana was on its sixth pitcher, Will Coursen-Carr, who hadn’t recorded a save all season and led the team in wild pitches with nine, while the Seminoles’ hottest hitter of the day, Giovanny Alfonzo, got that all-important leadoff single to open the ninth, knocking reliever Ryan Halstead out of the game.
“My job being the leadoff hitter that inning was just to get on, anyway I could, getting hit by a pitch, walking, whatever,” Alfonzo said. “He just happened to leave that pitch up and I put it somewhere they weren’t. In that situation (pinch-hitter Casey Smit) and I spoke to each other before our at bats and we said we have to get on. If we get on, we have a chance.”
It seemingly only got better for Florida State.
Smit drew a walk to put two on with no one out, bringing Jameis Winston — FSU’s two-sport star who may very well be the starting quarterback this fall — up with a chance to get an early jump on carving his name in Seminoles lore.
But Winston fell behind in the count and did one of the only things he simply could not: popped out to the Indiana infield.
That left the Seminoles’ runners standing still at first and second and putting the game in danger of ending on a double play. As the crowd became hushed, Winston trudged back the dugout, but not before giving a quick nod to teammate D.J. Stewart, as if to say, “Pick me up.”
The Seminoles’ leading hitter at .363 roped a single up the middle, scoring Alfonzo and bringing the margin to within one run, 10-9. Better yet for FSU, it brought star catcher and Los Angeles Angels draft pick Stephen McGee to the plate with Marcus Davis on deck — FSU’s co-home run leaders with nine each. And when Coursen-Carr unleashed his 10th wild pitch of the year shortly into his battle with McGee, Smit and Stewart moved up, taking away the double play. FSU now needed just a single to take a one-game lead in the best-of-three series and complete an improbable comeback after trailing by four runs, 10-6, in the eighth.
It almost felt like it was already over, like a Seminoles win was imminent. Even Indiana coach Tracy Smith had seen this movie before — and he was pretty sure he knew how it was going to end.
“There was a moment in the ninth inning of that ball game when I think we had just thrown a wild pitch that ended up in my pitching coach’s lap where the guys moved up to second and third,” Smith said. “I kind of glanced over at coach Mike Martin and we didn’t make eye contact but just looking at both of us just kind of struggle through that one wasn’t the most well-played game and I was just kind of sitting there and in my mind at the ending was that either one of us will be happy with the win but probably not happy with the particular way we’d played.”
But it was Smith’s Hoosiers who left the least unhappy as the unthinkable followed for FSU fans: a McGee flyout to center, followed by a Davis flyout to right.
One fan screamed out “NOOOO!!!!” as the ball lifted into the air off Davis’ bat. Others didn't even wait for it to land before making their way to the exits.
But none were in more disbelief than the Seminoles themselves. After all, Alfonzo said everyone came to the dugout after the top of the ninth — down two runs — believing it was still the Seminoles’ game to lose.
“This team is one like I’ve never played on before. When we are down it doesn’t matter if we are down one (run) or if we are down nine (runs) going into the ninth inning, we are out there to fight,” he said. “I feel like this team that we have here, a young group of guys that are wanting to win, and be the energy you feel going back into the dugout for that last chance is unbelievable.”
Alfonzo was the unexpected hero of sorts Saturday after coming in with just a .247 batting average, 49 hits and no home runs. Along with his three singles, he also had two RBI, scored two runs and drew a walk. He, along with teammate John Nogowski, sparked the Seminoles’ first comeback from a 4-0 hole early in the game after the Big Ten’s home run leader, Kyle Schwarber, cranked his 18th of the season in the fourth inning, scoring Will Nolden, who led off the inning with a single to begin a four-run explosion for the Hoosiers.
Believe it or not, in a game that featured 19 runs on 23 hits, Nolden’s base knock was the first of the game for either team after starters Luke Weaver of FSU and IU’s Joey DeNato both pitched no-hit ball through the first three frames.
Following a Brent Knieff RBI single in the bottom of the fourth, Nogowski scored the Seminoles’ first run — leaping in the air and pumping his fist as he crossed home plate to finally put FSU on the board — after Nogowski was hit by a pitch to lead off the inning. Alfonzo followed with his first hit, scoring Jose Brizuela to make it 2-2, then one McGee single and a fielder’s choice later and the game was tied, 4-4.
Smith said his head was spinning after watching his team take a commanding 4-0 lead, only to cough it right back up five minutes later and force him to pull DeNato — the Big Ten’s co-wins leader with nine — from the game. DeNato had given up just one hit when he got the hook, but he had clearly lost his command by the fourth, spraying pitches all over the zone.
“I was disappointed in that,” Smith said. “I was as shocked as Joey that he lost his strike zone. I have never seen it out of him and it wasn’t nerves or whatever we just ask a lot out of him all season and we ask our guys to give us what you have, and he gave us three solids and for whatever reason he just couldn’t fine the zone. As I said in yesterday’s press conference, not the only way but one of the best ways to get beat by Florida State is to give them extra base runners and so that was my decision to pull him at that point because we just needed strikes.”
Florida State would take the lead outright in the fifth inning when Nogowski led off with a single and Alfonzo later drove him in to make it 5-4, then after one IU run in the top of the sixth, the Seminoles made it 6-5 in the bottom when Josh Delph scored on Davis’ RBI single.
Indiana, however, came roaring back.
Gage Smith relieved Weaver (6 IP, 7 H, 5 R, 5 Ks) to start the seventh, and the wheels came off for FSU. Three hits and two errors later, Indiana was back on top, 9-6, leaving Florida State’s usually defensively-sound players in a daze.
“It’s always frustrating when you make errors and give up runs, but you have to give credit to Indiana, they swung the bats great,” Nogowski said. “They seemed like every chance they had a guy in scoring position, they got him in. I know we will be ready (today), and those errors won’t happen again.”
After a scoreless seventh for FSU, IU tacked on its 10th run in the top of the eighth on another Seminoles error. But FSU would narrow the game when Nogowski blasted a two-run homer in the bottom of the inning to cut the lead to 10-8 and set the stage for a dramatic ninth inning that seemed scripted for a Seminoles win.
Instead, it played out perfectly for the visitors, who are now one win away from their first trip to the College World Series.
“To sum it up that way, I don’t think it was a particularly well-played game, but I do think it’s important, specifically in the Super Regionals format, to get off to a good start with a win — no matter how it happens,” Smith said of his team, which committed three errors of its own Saturday. “It was sloppy, but we’ll take it.”
Alfonzo, for one, doesn’t plan on the Seminoles giving another one away.
Not down a game. Not with their backs against the wall. And not in their house.
“You always have a chance when you have this uniform on,” he said.
NOTES: A few of the other items on Indiana’s check list of goals entering the season was to win the Big Ten title (check), achieve a Top 25 ranking (check), win two of three against rival Louisville and national powerhouse Florida (check, check) and reach the school’s first Super Regionals (check) ... Nogowski, a sophomore from Tallahassee, went homer-less during the regular season but has drilled two this postseason — once in the NCAA Regionals and then Saturday in the Super Regionals ... three players had two hits each for Indiana to lead the way: Schwarber (2-for-4, 4 RBI, 3 runs scored), Scott Donley (2-for-5, 2 runs) and Michael Basil (2-for-5, RBI, run) ... IU reliever Brian Korte earned the win — his first of the year — despite only pitching a third of an inning and allowing a hit, while Smith (0 IP, 1 H, 2 R) shouldered the loss for FSU to fall to 4-2 on the season ... Indiana left six on base, while FSU stranded 13 ... FSU broke the school record this year with players being hit by pitches (98), and they had three more batters get hit Saturday ... Indiana’s win Saturday was the Hooisers’ fifth in a row, while FSU’s loss ended a three-game winning streak ... Today’s Game 2 will be broadcast nationally on ESPNU, and if Game 3 is necessary Monday, it will be shown on ESPN2 beginning at 1 p.m. ... Game 1 lasted 4 hours and 16 minutes.