Friday First Takes - Heels get the pre-game handshake, then the big inning

Well at least there were handshakes before and after the game this time. And just like last Friday, the Seminoles played eight innings of really good baseball.

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(Stupid umpire got in the way, but as you see, Mike Martin had no problem shaking Mike Fox's hand before tonight's FSU-UNC game.)

Only problem was, just like their big loss last Friday to No. 1 Miami, the Noles saw their bullpenners lugging a gas can with them to the mound tonight. And it was the hot sticks of players like Garret Gore (2-run single), Dustin Ackley (2-run single), Kyle Shelton (2-run dinger) and Kyle Seager (2-run double) that supplied the matches, pacing North Carolina to an 11-4 win.

The scoreboard couldn't handle the double-digit tally as the Heels ran the total to 11 runs in the 8th inning alone, crushing the Noles hopes in Cary tonight. Eerily similar to last Friday's 10-run 6th inning that doomed their chances against top-ranked Miami.

As I feared, the Noles faced a much tougher assignment at the dish tonight than they've seen all season, getting just four hits on the night despite coming in with an insane .352 team average. But still, they nipped and picked and got some free passes on the way to building an unlikely 1-hit, 3-0 lead. Two of their runs came in the 6th inning, which saw Alex White load the bases after walking the first three batters. Two sac fly RBIs built up the 3-run cushion going into the bottom of the 8th inning.

And that's where things got ugly. After giving up just a harmless single run to Dustin Ackley, the Noles seemed destined to escape the inning with only one run of damage. But the defensive deficiencies bit them in the butt again, as a sure third out grounder was booted. Next thing you know, the floodgates opened up, with a salt in the wound kind of ramifications.

Six FSU pitchers went through the 8th inning revolving door and they could do no good out of the pen. After two pitching changes, head coach Mike Martin quit making the trip to the mound himself, instead sending out assistants who merely signaled to the pen as soon as they bounced out of the dugout. And what hurts even more was the fact that starter Matt Fairel did an admirable job, going 5.2 innings without giving up a run and holding the blue and white to just four hits.

The fight was gone in the Noles. But don't forget, last week they dug deep to take game two and nearly win game three. We'll see how they react now that they're on the road and facing arguably tougher arms.

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(The Juan Marichal-like high kick of UNC starter Alex White, who only gave up one hit but walked four and gave up three runs in 5.1 innings of work.)


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NOW ON TO THE USUAL NIGHTLY FEATURE---
The best and worst from around the nation on this Friday of college baseball in our usual Three Up-Three Down feature.

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THREE UP---
1- The Texas A&M student section.
How else can you explain the Aggies coming back from an 8-2 deficit to win?
And how many times can I give props to the Aggies? Am I showing a bias now? Well, either way, the Maroons came back from an 8-2 deficit by scoring four runs in the 7th, one in the 8th and two in the 9th to complete the most unlikely comeback against an otherwise solid pitching staff of the Missouri Tigers. Aaron Crow came unglued (by his standards) by giving up six hits, five runs and five walks. HAD to be the student section amping up the pressure. In the end, Brian Ruggiano knocked in the game-tying run and the game-winner came from, what else, a Tiger mistake. This one was a balk that scored the winning run from third with no outs in the 9th.

2- Ho-hum, Stephen Strausburg again.
The SDSU ace help lead the Aztecs to a 4-1 win over TCU.
For the second time in three weeks Strausburg tossed a complete game one-hitter as the Aztec ace K'd 13 Horned Frogs to improve to 4-1 with a 1.63 ERA. The bad news? (If you consider it bad news) Strausburg's scoreless streak ended at 30 innings when he gave up a single run in the 7th inning.

3- Preston Guilmet, Arizona.
Threw a complete game 5-hitter in a 7-0 win at Oregon State.
UofA takes game one behind Guilmet's 10K performance, where he gave up only one walk. The Cats also didn't commit a single error on the night. Of course, it didn't hurt that OSU's Mike Stutes issued eight walks and gave up six hits, two home runs and also plunked a batter.


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THREE DOWN---
1- Rice.
Lost to Central Florida 4-2.
I know, I know. It will look weird. It will take a while to get used to seeing it. But for the first time in C-USA history the Rice Owls have three check marks on the L-side of the ledger. UCF's Kiko Vazquez blasted a yard call as part of the 3-for-4 night in which he also scored two runs himself. Kyle Sweat improved to 4-2, giving up just five hits in 7.1 innings to squash the Owls. This also breaks a 4-11 skein for UCF. Now let's see if they can build on it.

2- Whoever left Billy Bullock hanging out to dry.
Florida lost to Georgia 7-4 tonight.
Gator starter Billy Bullock was getting hit hard. And hit often. It was a horrible 3rd inning nightmare for the Gator slinger as he surrendered four runs on six hits. Even the outs appeared to be hard-hit baseballs. But he was given little run support (again) and kept in the ball game way too long. UofF's charges would've been able to make the comeback possible, since their bats woke up in the 7th inning, where it scored three runs. But too much damage had been done.

3- James Madison.
Lost 6-4 to Virginia Commonwealth.
The Dukes are a team I'm keeping close tabs on mainly because they came into this weekend on a 13-3 spree and, at 28-10/16-4, have accomplished more this season already than most people were expecting. And with 1st place UNC-Wilmington taking the weekend off from CAA play, this was JMU's chance to make up some ground in the standings. But no dice. VCU squashed the Dukes attack, holding them to seven hits, despite coming in hitting .323.


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WHAT I SAW ON SUN SPORTS TONIGHT---
Georgia- 204 001 000 - 7 15 1
Florida - 000 100 300 - 4 9 0

WP- Trevor Holder (6-2)
LP- Billy Bullock (3-3)
Sv- Joshua Fields (12)

As mentioned above, the poor early start by Bullock (his fourth Friday non-win in a row) doomed the Gators tonight. The Bulldogs got a series of hard-hit balls in the third inning, scoring four runs to break open the game. The inning started like so:
Matt Olson hit a towering home run down the right field line.
Gordon Beckham doubled.
Rich Poythress singled to right.
Bryce Massanari blasted a no-doubter for 3RBI.
Lyle Allen K'd.
Joey Lewis ripped a single.
Matt Cerione doubled solidly to left center.
Ryan Peisel hit into double play.

But the Gators fought back, scoring four earned runs off of Dawgs starter Trevor Holder to pull within three runs. But Joshua Fields, mullet flailing and all, was a freakin' monster on the mound. He came on in the 8th inning with the bases loaded and one out and just started mowing like a tractor. He faced five Gator batters and five Gator batters went down looking confused by strike three. Unlike his wildness at LSU last week, where he was brilliant AND wild at the same time (two walks and three Ks in seven batters), he was locked in this time.

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(Joshua Fields finished off the Florida Gators for his 12th save of the season)


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SPECIAL LATE NIGHT THUMBS UP AND THUMBS DOWN---
To Arizona State's Mike Leake and Cal's Tyson Ross.
Leake really, really, really helped his team out by going the distance tonight in the Devils 11-7 win. An already thin pitching corps was saved from usurping the bullpen when Leake turned into a complete-game iron man tonight. Sure, he gave up 11 hits and issued four walks, but he kept getting back up after getting knocked down and let his offense back him up.

Ross, on the other hand, hit another blip on the screen, going just 5.1 innings, while giving up eight hits, nine runs and handing out five walks. in the last three weeks, Ross has given up 27 hits in the last 16 innings of work. He HAS to rebound for the Bears to challenge for a spot in Omaha... much less the Super Regionals.

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QUICK NOTE ABOUT BIG 10 BASEBALL---
Who says the Big 10 can't pull some crowds? Here's a shot of Michigan State head coach Dave Grewe doing a sideline interview on the Big 10 Network with the MSU cheerleaders in the background and in front of an Oldsmobile Park record crowd of 12,862 were in attendance as the Spartans took on the Lansing Lugnuts in an exhibition game on Thursday.

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(Now THIS is what college baseball is all about. In-game coach's interviews, cheerleaders and a packed house at a minor league stadium)

Of course, MSU then went out and dropped an ugly 16-2 game to Iowa to kick off the weekend earlier today.

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G'night.

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Eric Sorenson Eric Sorenson
Eric Sorenson is CSTV.com's National Baseball Columnist, and also appears on CSTV as a baseball expert