Early classic: JU pitching, botched FSU safety squeeze in ninth enable Dolphins to edge 'Noles

Garry Smits
Florida Times-Union
Jacksonville University coach Chris Hayes (right) high fives Dolphins designated hitter TJ Curd after Tuesday's 3-2 victory over Florida State.

It’s only February but Tuesday’s 170th meeting between Jacksonville University and Florida State in baseball had the May atmosphere of an NCAA regional. 

But that’s become pretty common for this rivalry in recent years — especially since Chris Hayes became the Dolphins coach. 

JU pinch-hitter Tommy Joseph went to the opposite field with a soft line-drive single on a 1-2 count in the bottom of the sixth inning to drive in Jonah Diaz with the winning run and relievers Blake Barquin and Tyler Vogel combined to pitch 4.1 innings of scoreless, one-hit relief as the Dolphins edged the 10th-ranked Seminoles 3-2 in front of a loud and rowdy crowd of 1,564 at John Sessions Stadium that was almost evenly split between green and garnet. 

It was the third consecutive one-run game in the series — all won by JU (4-0) — and the fifth one-run game in the six years Hayes has been the Dolphins’ coach. 

Florida State's Reese Albert drove in the Seminoles first run of the game on Tuesday in a 3-2 loss to Jacksonville University.

He’s 6-7 against the Seminoles (3-1) and beat them at home for the first time since a 6-2 victory on May 10, 2016.

“That’s a very talented team … 21 new guys and lot of them from the [transfer] portal,” said FSU coach Mike Martin Jr. “They made pitches when they had to, got a couple of clutch hits and there’s some things we have to do better. I thought we had them on the ropes and didn’t put them away. They’re on scholarship, too.” 

One item on the to-do list for Martin during the team’s next practice might be executing with runners in scoring position. Florida State failed to get runners home from second or third with less than two out four times, and the last one in the top of the ninth inning was especially painful. 

After Barquin (1-0), a high-strung 6-foot-6 true freshman from Lakeland, threw 3.2 innings with five strikeouts in a row at one point, FSU designated hitter Jaime Ferrer chased him from the game with a one-out double, bringing on sophomore reliever Tyler Vogel. 

Jordan Carrion reached on an error by JU shortstop Chase Malloy, sending Ferrer to third. However, Martin ordered a safety squeeze by pinch-hitter Isaiah Perry, who pulled his bat back on a low, outside pitch. Ferrer still broke for the plate, then got caught in a rundown and was eventually tagged out by Malloy. 

Another pinch-hitter, Cade Bush, drew a walk and stole second but Treyton Rank flied out to right to end the game and give Vogel his second save of the season.

The play harkened back to a key moment in the opening game of the ASUN tournament when Liberty failed to execute a safety squeeze in the ninth inning and JU got the second out in a rundown, then closed out the game. 

“We work on those rundowns, don’t we,” Hayes said with a smile. 

More importantly, for the Dolphins is that they are 4-0 for the first time since 2016. JU lost its first eight games last season and dug into a 7-24 hole before rebounding in May to get the last qualifying spot for the ASUN tournament, and then win it for the programs’ 16th NCAA tournament berth. 

Hayes said a quick start is certainly preferable to last season but said winning at any point is hard.

“The pressure never stops,” he said. “Last year, February, March and April were difficult to endure but it did make the guys in this dugout a little bit tougher. It shows that they keep pushing and the never stop and it’s carried over to this year.” 

The Dolphins began and ended the game with stout pitching. Starter Michael Darrell-Hicks, a graduate transfer from Western Kentucky, struck out six batters in a row in the first two innings but the ‘Noles got a run in the third when Jordan Carrion and Colton Vincent singled and Reese Albert hit a sacrifice fly to center. 

FSU got its second run in the fourth off Luke Baker, an Ole Miss transfer, when James Tibbs and Ferrer singled and Carrion hit an RBI ground out. 

JU tied the game in the fifth when Blake DeLamielleure was hit by a pitch, Cam Ridley doubled him home and eventually scored on a wild pitch. 

The winning rally started with a leadoff walk to Diaz, a single by Miami graduate transfer Raymond Gil and Joseph’s single. 

“I had two strikes so I was just trying to put the ball in play,” said Joseph. 

JU pitchers combined for 14 strikeouts, eight by Darrell-Hicks and the five by Barquin, who was fist-pumping and bellowing with every third strike. 

“I’m excited any time I can pitch and play this game,” Barquin said. “That’s all you can ask.” 

FSU didn't pitch shabby either. Five pitchers combined to give up only six hits and two walks, striking out eight.

Freshman Jackson Baumeister, a Bolles graduate, got the Seminoles out of a jam in the fifth when he picked Jesus Pacheco off first and fanned Chase Malloy looking but he took the loss when he walked Diaz and Joseph hit his game-winning hit off Wyatt Crowell.

Trinity Christian graduate Dylan Simmons struck out two in one inning.

FSU got stellar defensive play from Rank at second, who ranged far and wide for eight infield grounders, including one that ended the sixth inning on a close play at first, with Gil crossing the plate. 

Both teams return home on Friday for three-game sets against non-conference opponents from Alabama, FSU against Samford and JU against Troy. 

“We still have a couple of guys out,” Martin said of first baseman Tyler Martin, the team’s leader in runs and on-base percentage last season, and senior pitcher Davis Hare. “Some pieces of the puzzle. We’ll get them back soon enough.”