By Arnie Leshin
He was like a kid in a candy store. When the winning run came across Sunday, Mike Martin just stood in front of his dugout and silently shook his head and watched his Florida State players celebrate in the area of first base.
But it didn’t take long before he was hugged by his coaches and players. Then he joined in and realized his 40th and last season as head coach of the Seminoles is winding down just the way he wanted it. In all those years, all that has eluded him has been a national championship.
But to take his unranked team back to the College World Series in the familiar surroundings of Omaha, Neb., was not in the script. Now it is, now he comes off sweeping 13th ranked Louisiana State in the best-of-3 Super Regional in Baton Rouge and joining the Elite Eight field in the final stop from the original field of 64 schools, and his 17thappearance in the World Series.
An amazing finale for him. His team has advanced to a 41-20 record, it won the ACC tournament, hit the road for the Athens Regional hosted by 7th-ranked Georgia as the 3rd seed, and went 3-0, twice defeated the Bulldogs, and then took off to face the Bayou Tigers, and there, too, he swept the field that included two wins over LSU.
By this time, Martin had expected to head on back to Tallahassee with his wife of 50 years, Carol, and they would plan their retirement plans. But happily for them, it has to be put on hold, there’s other business to attend to at TD Ameritrade Park in Omaha.
The Seminoles, the home team for game two, and Tigers went from a 4-0 FSU lead to a 4-4 tie that carried over into extra innings.
And in the last of the 12th, Mike Salvatore walked with one out. The second out followed on a pop up to shortstop, and Salvatore took second base on a wild pitch and put the bat in the hands of the team’s best hitter, Daren Mendoza, and on a 2-2 fastball, he looped a shot to shallow right field and Salvatore just took off and sped home without a play.
That was when Martin was trying to believe what he just seen. It wasn’t long before the reality of what had occurred got to him. He jumped around and did a dance while blowing a kiss to Carol in the stands. He shouted out his happiness and yelled out “Can you believe we are going back to Omaha.?”
There, his Seminoles were going to play game one on Saturday against 5th ranked Arkansas (43-7) in the double-elimination final roundup for the 70thstraight time in Omaha.
Other games will send Michigan (47-20), another unranked surprise, against 8th ranked Texas Tech (41-18), which won the deciding game Sunday over 9th ranked Oklahoma State (37-20) in a Big 12 match-up.
It was top-seeded UCLA that fell to the Wolverines in Los Angeles’ Jackie Robinson Stadium. All three games were low scoring and close. Michigan won game one, 3-2, the Bruins (48-10) brought on a deciding showdown with a run in the bottom of the 14th and a 5-4 win.
This time, it was more of the same, with the Wolverines leading most of the way and celebrating a 5-3 victory before the stunned home crowd of a packed ballpark.
Second-seeded Vanderbilt (51-11) responded from a nasty 14-5 game one loss to unranked Duke (35-27) in Nashville by winning the next two behind stellar pitching backed by the bats. The Commodores (54-10) take on 7th ranked Louisville (49-16) in Omaha’s opening day.
And the last pairing will include 10th ranked North Carolina (43-18) or unranked Auburn (38-16) after they play game three, versus 4th ranked Mississippi State (48-13), which turned back unranked Stanford (41-13).
Not bad, FSU and Michigan, two unranked schools and the possibility of a third if Auburn survives, and Stanford getting this far. But no No.1 Bruins, no No.7 East Carolina, no No. 9 Oklahoma State, no No. 11 Ole Miss. Easy to say wait til next year for those falling short, but for Mike Martin’s FSU, it’s now or never or in later years.