TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – Five early runs and a triple play were not enough for Sam Houston State on Saturday as Florida State's Jackson Lueck capped a comeback for the Seminoles with a walk-off RBI single in the bottom of the ninth inning for a 7-6 win in the opening game of the Tallahassee Super Regional on Saturday at Dick Howser Stadium.
It was the fourth RBI single as part of a 4-for-5 day for the Seminole (44-21) sophomore, leading an FSU offense that struck for four of its seven runs in the final three frames to erase what twice was a 4-run Bearkat (44-22) lead.
Sam Houston struck for five runs in the first three innings, but could not add another run against Florida State ace Tyler Holton again until the seventh. Meanwhile, FSU chipped away with single runs in the second, third and fifth before a 3-run rally with two outs in the seventh tied it up before Lueck's walk-off heroics.
The Kats will turn around and take on the Seminoles once again on Sunday, needing a win to force decisive third game on Monday with a berth in the College World Series on the line. First pitch is set for 11 a.m. CT and will air live on national TV on either ESPN or ESPN2. The Bearkats are expected to send staff ace Heath Donica to the hill.
AT THE PLATE
Hunter Hearn and Jaxxon Grisham each had two RBI apiece, but it was the Bearkats' pressure that had the Seminoles on their heels early in the game. That pressure forced a pair of FSU errors, leading to four unearned runs in the first three innings. The Kats bunted the ball in play six times on the day, including four times in the first three innings, with each of the first four resulting in either a run or the hitter reaching base.
Hearn and Bryce Johnson each finished with a pair of hits, but Sam Houston saw just one of its seven hits as a team go for extra bases while hitting just 1-for-8 with runners in scoring position.
Lueck was the hero for the Seminoles with his third walk-off hit of the season. He finished with four hits and four RBI, but leadoff man Taylor Walls also turned in a great day for FSU. Walls had two hits and two walks on the day, scoring three times, including the winning run in the ninth. His hits came in each of his final two at-bats, including a bunt single with two outs to start the seventh-inning rally, and a leadoff single to open up the bottom of the ninth.
ON THE BUMP
Sam Houston went with a staff-by-committee for the fifth time this postseason, giving the ball to freshman Kyle Backhus to open the game. Backhus struck out three and allowed just two hits in 2.0 innings on the hill before Riley Cooper once again carried the bulk of the load. Cooper, the MVP of the Lubbock Regional, logged 4.0 innings, allowing a pair of runs with three punchouts.
Nick Mikolajchak fell to 0-4 on the year with the loss, allowing the winning run in the ninth after leaving the go-ahead run stranded on base in the eighth. Dominic Robinson and Dakota Mills each tossed 0.2 innings each, with Mills picking up a strikeout along with three runs allowed in the game-tying seventh inning.
The Kats did not make things easy for FSU all-America starter Tyler Holton, touching him up for a season-high six runs in 6.2 innings. The lefty did not factor in the decision, but still struck out seven hitters on the day before giving way to the Seminole bullpen. FSU got a scoreless inning from Chase Haney before stopper Drew Carlton threw the final 1.1 innings and earned the win, running his record to 5-4 for the season.
HOW IT HAPPENED
Sam Houston wasted no time in building a lead against the Seminole ace, jumping on Holton for three runs in the top of the first. The Kats loaded the bases with nobody out on a walk to Riley McKnight, single by Johnson and an FSU error. Holton nearly worked out of the inning with consecutive strikeouts, but then hit Grisham to plate the first run before Hearn lined a 2-run single into center field to make it 3-0.
Backhus would respond with a shutdown bottom of the first that included a pair of strikeouts and the Kats took advantage of another Seminole error an inning later. McKnight reached on a strikeout that couldn't be handled behind the plate, and a bunt single from Johnson put Sam Houston in business with just one out. Holton then allowed the runners to move up with a failed pickoff try and Fregia picked up an RBI on a routine grounder to shortstop with McKnight scoring the second of his three runs on the day.
Things got interesting in the bottom half of the second with Florida State getting runners on second and third with nobody out. But Backhus got a strikeout of Drew Mendoza for the first out, and one batter later Robie Rojas was able to hold on to a throw at home plate from Lance Miles as FSU's Quincy Nieporte bowled over him for the second out. Steven Wells would get FSU on the board one batter later with an RBI single, the only damage of the frame.
The fun continued into the third when the Kats loaded them up with one away on singles from Grisham and Hearn, and a walk to Miles. Taylor Beene then bunted with the runners in motion, scoring Grisham to make it a 5-1 lead.
The Seminoles then went back to work against Cooper, who entered to open the third. A walk and a single by Dylan Busby quickly put two on and Lueck would get an RBI with a base hit to make it a 5-2 game; however, Cooper would get out of the inning one pitch later. The Bearkat lefty got Nieporte to hit a two-hopper right to Beene, who calmly stepped on third base and fired around the horn as the Kats turned a 5-4-3 triple play with ease.
An RBI single from Lueck made it a 5-3 game after five innings, but the Bearkats got the run back in its half of the seventh. Sam Houston loaded the bases against Holton and Grisham drew a full-count walk to pick up his second RBI of the day, plating McKnght to push the score back to 6-3.
Mills came on in relief to open the seventh inning and quickly retired the first two hitters he faced before Walls ignited what would be a 2-out, 3-run rally with a bunt single. Busby then drew a walk and Lueck responded with his third RBI single of the game to cut the lead to 6-4. Consecutive singles by Nieporte and Cal Raleigh followed, with Raleigh's shot to center field knotting the game. The Seminoles were threatening for more, but Nieporte was picked off of second base for the inning's final out, keeping things tied.
Sam Houston could not do anything with a two-out single from Blake Chisolm in the eighth and went down in order in the top of the ninth, setting things up for FSU in its final at-bat. Walls opened it up by lining a single into right field and moved into scoring position when Busby was hit by a pitch. Lueck then stepped to the plate and lined the first pitch he saw into the right-field gap, giving FSU its first lead of the day with the winning run.
- The 5-4-3 triple play turned by the Bearkats is the 14th triple play turned in college baseball this season, with no teams having more than one. According to research available on-site, it is the first triple play in recorded history for the Kats.
- Hunter Hearn went 2-for-4 with a pair of RBI on Saturday, continuing his scoring run through the postseason. He is now 10-for-21 (.476) in NCAA Tournament play this season, leading the team.
- Riley Cooper carried the heavy load out of the pen once again for the Kats, and has now logged 14.2 innings in four appearances this postseason, striking out 12 with just a pair of walks.
- With Bryce Johnson's run scored in the first inning, it gave him 63 runs scored in 2017, tying him with Bryan McDonald's 1987 mark for fifth all-time in a single season for a Bearkat. He also moved into sole possession of seventh all-time in single-season hits, reaching safely twice to up his total to 91 this year.
- Additionally, Johnson's run and hit totals for the day moved him up the career lists as well at Sam Houston. His two hits scored gives him 239 for his career, tying him with Nick Zaleski for seventh all-time. Meanwhile, his run scored also ties him with Zaleski for sixth all-time with 147.
Opening statement from head coach Matt Deggs…
“I'm real proud of our guys. This is a great atmosphere against a really good team. They are very well coached. I thought it was a heavy-weight bout. We jumped out and I thought we executed our game plan. Holton is as advertised. He's very hard to find. We were able to grab the lead. We just weren't able to get off the field with two outs. Any time you have a great program on the ropes like that you have to finish them to get them. They won't give you anything, give up or surrender. We had that opportunity today and let it slip. Tomorrow will be our fifth elimination game. It will be nothing new to us.”
Matt Deggs on playing in an elimination game…
“We're fine. I've been in their situation plenty of times too. It's jubilation. It's joy but at the end of the day, you have to win twice to go to Omaha. We still have two cracks in this deal. As long as we have life, I promise you we're in the fight. I can guarantee it.”
Matt Deggs on allowing the game-tying, three-run seventh…
“Tip your cap to Walls. He is without a doubt one of the best shortstops we've played this year. He started that whole thing with a drag bunt. That's fine … we have a three-run lead but we can't compound it by walking the next hitter. They tied it up … it's our job to have Dakota's back and come back and score.”
Bryce Johnson on the offense late in the game…
“I think we were just trying to do too much up there. You have to tip your caps to them. We just couldn't get a big hit. We just try to stay with the game plan. We had those big hits early and put up the three spot. Tomorrow, we'll make sure we come back and do that.”