TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – With a travel curfew looming, freshman DJ Stewart made sure Sunday’s game against Rhode Island (0-3) would not end in a tie as the Yulee, Fla., native blasted a walk-off, two-run home run over the fence in right center in the bottom of the 10th to give No. 9 Florida State (3-0) an 8-6 victory and the series sweep over the Rams.
Senior captain Justin Gonzalez got the wheels in motion in the 10th as he registered a one out single through the left side off URI’s Brendan Doonan (0-1). One batter later he was grinning from ear to ear waiting for Stewart to cross home plate to put the finishing touches on his late game heroics.
“This was one that you’re just so proud to be a Seminole,” said head coach Mike Martin. “Our young men persevered; we are down 5-0 and our young men stayed tough at the plate. We put together some good at-bats and got ourselves back in the game.”
“I was looking for my pitch to hit and drive it,” said Stewart on hitting his first career home run. “I knew it was gone when I hit it. When I hit first and saw the ball clear the fence, I was pretty happy about the result.”
“He is a young man who is certainly capable of doing it on a number of occasions,” said Martin on Stewart hitting the game-winning home run. “He took a good swing; he didn’t try to do too much. He took a mistake and his athletic ability did the rest.”
Sunday’s series finale was a tail of two games as Rhode Island dominated the first five innings thanks in large part to starter Liam O’Sullivan. The junior right hander allowed just one hit through the first five innings that coming off the bat of freshman second baseman John Sansone, who registered a two-out single through the left side of the infield in the fourth inning.
On the offensive side of things, the Rams ran out to a 5-0 lead taking advantage of a sloppy defensive effort by the Seminoles as FSU finished the game with five errors. Of the six Rhode Island runs scored on Sunday, three were unearned.
Florida State starter Peter Miller went just 2.1 innings in his season debut as the junior right hander allowed four runs, two earned, on three hits as he walked four and struck out two.
Bryant Holtmann made his second appearance of the weekend and worked 1.2 innings allowing a run on three hits with one strikeout.
With the Seminoles looking at an uphill battle and O’Sullivan cruising on the mound, a one-out double off the fence in right off the bat of Marcus Davis in the bottom of the sixth seemed to be the wake-up call the Florida State offense needed. One batter later Jose Brizuela brought home Davis for FSU’s first run of the afternoon as he ripped a ball off the top of the wall in right center for an RBI triple.
After a Rhode Island pitching change, Seth Miller drove in Brizuela on an RBI groundout to short to cut the Rams’ lead to 5-2.
O’Sullivan would not factor into the decision on Sunday as he went 5.1 innings allowing just two runs on three hits as he walked four and struck out two.
Billy Strode kept the Seminoles in the ball game with 2.0 shutout innings in relief keeping Rhode Island’s offense in check in the fifth and sixth innings. The sophomore transfer allowed just one hit and struck out two in his FSU debut.
Jameis Winston entered in the seventh and gave FSU three solid innings as the freshman right hander gave up an unearned run on two hits as he did not walk a batter, while striking out four.
The Rams added to their lead in the eighth taking advantage of two Seminole errors while scoring their lone run of the inning when Winston was charged with a balk.
“Jameis was very impressive,” said Martin. “He kept his poise. The balk didn’t bother him. He got us in the dugout and then Gage (Smith) came in and did a very good job to get the win. Billy Strode also did a nice job for two innings which kept us in the ball game.”
Florida State responded with four runs in the bottom half of the inning to tie the game at 6-6. The Seminoles sent 10 batters to the plate highlighted by Giovanny Alfonzo’s RBI single, Brett Knief’s two-run double and an RBI fielder’s choice groundout off the bat of Stephen McGee to bring home Casey Smit for the tying run.
After both teams went quietly in the ninth, the game would be decided in the 10th as a travel curfew was in effect.
Gage Smith (1-0) took the mound in the top of the 10th and recorded the first two outs on a pop out to second and a fly out to center. The junior right hander then worked around the fifth Seminole error of the game as he got Mike LeBel to fly out to Knief in right giving way to Stewart’s walk-off home run in the bottom of the inning.
“It’s a real accomplishment for this baseball team to win the way it did,” added Martin. “URI is very good baseball team. They are not average, they are very good and they are going to be very difficult in the very near future. I was very impressed with them.”
The last walk-off victory for Florida State came against Rhode Island in the final game of last year’s series. In that game, Jayce Boyd gave FSU its first lead of the game in the bottom of the ninth when he delivered a two-out, two-run walk-off double off the screen in right center to give the Seminoles the 6-5 victory and the series sweep.
The last walk-off victory that resulted in a home run was Mike McGee’s solo home run in the bottom of the ninth against Vanderbilt in the game one of the Tallahassee Super Regional back on June 11, 2010.
Brizuela led all Seminoles with two hits on Sunday, while Knief and Stewart each drove in two runs.
With the victory at home on Sunday, FSU has now won its last 13 games when donning its gold jerseys.
“(This one) Felt great,” said Knief. “We went down early and they had the momentum for a majority of the game. But we kept fighting; we knew it was going to be a nine-inning game. And in this instance, it was more than that but it was fun. We weren’t going to go down without a fight.”
Florida State returns to the diamond on Tuesday, February 19 as the Seminoles welcome Jacksonville for a 4:00 p.m. first pitch on Mike Martin Field inside Dick Howser Stadium. The Seminoles will send sophomore right hander Luke Weaver to the mound for his second career start against the Dolphins.