Had FSU left-hander Antonio Velez not thrust himself into the national consciousness with his valiant relief effort Sunday night in Game 2 of the super regional at LSU, he would have had the opportunity to do so Monday.
At least that was the plan of his coach, who had long since become enamored with the fortitude of the Brandon High alumnus and former Saladino Award winner.
“Let’s just say we were gonna start (Velez), or use him big-time, in the third game,” said ’Noles coach Mike Martin.
Thanks in part to Velez, a third contest was avoided. The 'Noles earned a College World Series berth, and extended Martin’s farewell season, with Sunday’s 12-inning, 5-4 triumph against the Tigers.
Inserted in a high-leverage situation (runner on second, one out, FSU leading by one) in the top of the eighth inning, Velez surrendered consecutive singles to tie the score at 4-all.
But after the second hit, by LSU’s Zach Watson, Velez took a cutoff throw from the outfield and tossed a laser to second baseman Nander De Sadas, who applied the tag when Watson overran the bag.
Velez allowed only two hits over the next 4.2 innings, striking out six and walking none to earn the victory, his second in as many super regional appearances after being mostly inconspicuous down the regular season’s final stretch.
“Not the least bit intimidated, not the least bit concerned,” Martin said of Velez.
“He knew what he needed to do to be successful. And if he did make a bad pitch, you looked out there and you didn’t see that ‘Oh no’ look on his face. It was, ‘Give me the ball, get back on the mound.’”
Now, Velez arrives in Omaha as the ’Noles’ hottest reliever. In nine relief innings during NCAA Tournament play, the junior transfer from Hillsborough Community College has allowed two runs, struck out 10, and earned two wins.
Not to mention the unwavering faith of his skipper.
“We were gonna go with (Tampa Catholic alum) Conor Grady to start the third game,” said Martin, whose club opens CWS play Saturday at 7 against Arkansas.
"And if Conor ran into any difficulty at all, we wanted to have Velez ready. But Velez just in a nice way said, ‘Y’all do what you want to, but I ain’t coming out of this game.’ He was beautiful.”
College World Series
Florida State (41-21) vs. Arkansas (46-18), 7 Saturday; double elimination, Omaha, Neb.
Contact Joey Knight at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow @TBTimes_Bulls.