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FSU-Miami Rivalry Takes On New Stakes

Weekend Spotlight


CORAL GABLES, Fla. – Mike Martin can remember his first game as Florida State’s coach, even though it was a couple of generations ago … in 1980.

“Go ahead,” Martin dared the reporter on the other end of the phone. “Ask me anything about that series.”

Martin, 73, wasn’t kidding.

He remembers losing to the Miami Hurricanes and ace pitcher Neal Heaton, 10-0, in that first game. Heaton was the first overall pick in the 1979 draft, but he turned down the New York Mets so he could pitch for the Canes.

In the third game, FSU staged a wild rally that forced then-Canes coach, the late Ron Fraser, to bring back Heaton to try to nail down a save, a move that would be unheard of these days, especially with such a valuable pro prospect.

FSU won anyway, 9-8, and the Miami players paid a price.

“As we left the stadium, we saw the Miami players running,” Martin said. “(Then-pitching coach Skip Bertman) was getting after them pretty good.

“We saw this from our bus, and Jim Morris turns to me and says: ‘Are we that bad?’”

No, as it turns out, the ’Noles weren’t bad at all, but it showed just how much this series means to each team.

And yes, that’s right, Morris, now Miami’s head coach, was Martin’s assistant at the time.

Bertman went on to win five College World Series titles at LSU, Morris has won two titles with Miami, Martin is first among active coaches in Division I wins, and Fraser, who won two CWS titles, is known as one of the pioneers and legends of the game.

That’s just a small slice of the rich history of the FSU-Miami annual rivalry, which will be renewed again this Friday for a three-game weekend series.

This year’s matchup will be different as both teams have struggled.

But don’t tell that to Martin.

“The reason I can remember that series in 1980, which was more than 2500 games ago, is because this is Florida State-Miami,” Martin said. “That’s all you need to know.”

Keep The Streaks?

Every January, just before the college baseball season begins, workers arrive at Mark Light Field to update a sign that appears inside Miami’s dugout, painted in white vinyl over a green background:

“NCAA Record 44 Straight NCAA Tournaments”

The Hurricanes, who have won four College World Series titles and consider that their greater glory, have never made a huge fuss over the streak.

All of a sudden, though, with the team’s slumping offense gutted by the draft and the pitching rotation requiring change, Miami’s incredible run of success is in jeopardy.

But even though fans are discussing the streak on talk radio, and The Miami Herald ran a front page story on the issue in Wednesday’s editions, Morris and the rest of the Canes are doing their best to downplay their alarming sub-.500 overall record.

“I try not to worry about the streak,” Morris said. “And I told our guys not to worry about it. We just need to worry about today.”

The Canes (18-19 overall, 9-9 ACC) and Seminoles (24-15, 9-9) both need this series badly. Ironically, the Seminoles have the NCAA’s second-longest postseason streak, which stands at 39 consecutive years.

And while the Canes have struggled more, this hasn’t been a ’Noles-type season, either. They have already lost ACC series to Virginia Tech, North Carolina and NC State, and they dropped all three games to Florida.

Miami got swept in three games by the Gators, and the Canes have also had some head-scratching defeats, losing two of three to Dartmouth, both losses by shutout, and dropping two straight to in-city rival FIU.

In the ACC, Miami has dropped series to NC State, North Carolina and Wake Forest.

Miami’s batting average (.214) is the worst in the ACC, and the Canes’ 162 runs scored are less than half of what Wake Forest has (330).

The Canes have hit just 17 homers, which ranks 12th in the 14-team ACC.

It’s a huge drop-off for the Canes, who made it to CWS last season with a 50-14 record and an RPI that was third in the nation.

The Canes lost four big bats to the pros after last season, including catcher Zack Collins, who hit .363 with 16 homers and was a first-round pick of the Chicago White Sox. Miami also lost leading hitter and shortstop Brandon Lopez and outfielders Willie Abreu and Jacob Heyward. The latter two combined to hit 18 homers.

Miami suffered another big blow just six games into this season. Catcher Mike Amditis, who was Miami’s hottest hitter at the time at .357, was lost for the year due to a leg injury.

In addition, center fielder Carl Chester, who hit .336 last season, got off to a slow start due to a back injury. He is Miami’s leading hitter with a .273 average, a far cry from last season’s dominant offense.

Two other injuries have factored in to the offensive slump: Infielder Johnny Ruiz, who hit .342 last year, is batting just .210. He has been slowed by a shoulder injury. And first baseman Chris Barr, who hit .256 last year, is at .160 after offseason back injury.

Miami’s pitching has been much better than its offense, boasting a 3.83 ERA that is fourth in the league.

Still, losing closer Bryan Garcia to the pros – he had 18 saves last season and a 1.89 ERA – has hurt. And the loss of Danny Garcia (9-5, 3.57) to the pros forced Jesse Lepore from midweek to weekend starter.

Lepore was 9-0 with a 2.20 ERA in his midweek role last year. This season, pitching on Friday nights, he is 1-5, 5.08, and the Canes made the move this week to remove him from the rotation, at least temporarily.

The Canes will start junior-college transfer Jeb Bargfeldt on Friday, and he’s been the team’s MVP with a 4-2 record and a 1.69 ERA. In six ACC starts, he is 3-1, 1.19.

Lefty Mike Mediavilla (4-4, 4.23) will be moved up to Saturday, and freshman Greg Veliz (3-2, 2.41) will make his weekend debut on Sunday. Batters are hitting just .152 against Veliz, the best mark in the ACC.

FSU will start, in order, Cole Sands (5-2, 4.60), Tyler Holton (5-1, 2.60) and freshman lefthander Drew Parrish (3-2, 4.98).

Perhaps that Canes pitching can carry the weekend.

“The tradition here is second to none,” Canes second baseman Romy Gonzalez said. “We just want to be a part of that tradition and keep the streak alive.”

Let’s Go Streaking

Only four schools have won more CWS titles than Miami: Southern California with 12, LSU and Texas with six each and Arizona State with five.

But Texas’ best postseason streak was just 18 years, ending in 1997. LSU’s best streak was 17, and that died in 2006. Arizona State’s best run was 12 (from 2000 to 2011); and USC, surprisingly, had a program-best of just 10 in a row, ending in ’02.

Miami doesn’t have an easy route to an NCAA regional. Winning the ACC tournament, in which the top 12 teams qualify, comes with automatic entry to the postseason. But that will be very difficult considering that this is a stacked league.

A 10-member NCAA committee chooses the at-large teams, and schools must have better than a .500 record against Division I opponents to be considered.

Miami is 17-19 against Division I programs with 19 games left.

The Canes, who have an RPI of 75 and have won three games in a row, have taken their past two series – against Duke and Pitt – but they have yet to sweep a series.

FSU Finding Its Groove

The Seminoles’ problems started in the fall when star freshman infielder Drew Mendoza suffered a broken jaw while executing a rundown play.

He was the highest-ranked freshman to choose college over the pros this year, and he also suffered a broken thumb while fielding a ball just before the season started.

Left fielder Jackson Lueck has also battled injuries this year, including shin splints and shingles.

Here is the good news for the Seminoles: They are 5-1 when they have their intended lineup together, and they will invade Coral Gables healthy and on a three-game win streak.

FSU showed what it could do when healthy last weekend, taking two of three games from Clemson, which was ranked fourth in the nation at the time.

Third baseman Dylan Busby has produced three RBIs in four straight games, something only two other Seminoles have ever done.

Busby, by the way, had the walk-off single the last time FSU played Miami, which was in last year’s ACC tournament.

Miami’s Jacob Heyward exchanges words with some Florida State players after FSU’s walk-off win in last year’s ACC tournament (Aaron Fitt)

Given all that, forgive Martin if he’s not concerned about any streak – his or Miami’s.

“I don’t think it’s time to concern yourself with that problem,” Martin said. “We’re not pleased with how we’ve played so far, but we have a lot of baseball left.

“And even if we’re able to take this series from them, Miami has a way of making things happen when they need them to happen.

“The main thing is that this is Miami-Florida State, and that’s what it’s all about.”

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