Florida State is “going back”, as in back to Omaha for the College World Series.
The Seminoles clinched that trip on Sunday night with a dramatic 12-inning win over LSU in the second game of the Baton Rouge Super Regional, 5-4. It marked the first time that FSU had ever won a Super Regional away from Tallahassee.
The moment that gets replayed time and time again years from now is sure to be third baseman Drew Mendoza’s walk-off single to score Mike Salvatore. What may get lost in terms of history could be the relief effort of lefty Antonio Velez.
Velez’s performance was the best for an FSU hurler since at least Will Zirzow’s 2-hit shutout against Auburn in the decisive game of the 2017 Tallahassee Super Regional. Depending how the season ends for the Seminoles and head coach Mike Martin, it could wind up being one of the greatest efforts on the mound in FSU history.
Many remember Zirzow’s effort two years ago in a 6-0 shutout for the Seminoles over Auburn. Zirzow had not pitched in nearly a month and went on to face just one over the minimum to propel Florida State to the Super Regional round.
During that stretch, FSU had thrown a combined no-hitter, multiple shutouts and a number of games where pitchers kept the opponent off the scoreboard and put up double-digit strikeout numbers. Given the nature of the situation however, none of those were quite the effort put forward by Velez in such a pressure-packed situation in front of a hostile crowd.
On Sunday night, Velez entered the game in the eighth inning with a pair of runners on. Velez was unable to strand the runners, but put up zeros over the next four frames to subdue a loaded LSU lineup.
Velez didn’t strut his stuff that way his LSU counterpart, Devin Fontenot, did, but over the final four frames, he was every bit as good. Fontenot struck out 11 Seminoles in 6.1 innings of relief and didn’t allow a single hit until Salvatore reached in the 12th.
Velez gave up four hits in his 4.2 innings, but from the eighth inning on, all four Tigers to reach did so with two outs. Velez also struck out six in the victory.
Had Velez’s effort been anything less than it was, there was a very good chance that a third game would have taken place on Monday night. Considering FSU had never won a road Super Regional before Sunday night, there would have been a strong possibility that the decisive game would have been the last of the season and of the legend Martin’s career.
Velez had worked a perfect seventh the day before in a tie game to earn the win in the first game of the Super Regional. On Sunday, he became the first FSU pitcher ever to collect two Super Regional victories.
With four national seeds joining FSU in Omaha and a pitching staff with an ERA pushing five, the odds are still stacked against Martin and the Seminoles getting that coveted first national championship. Should they do the unthinkable, some may look back on Velez’s relief performance as not just the best showing since Zirzow, but maybe the most important in FSU history.