One pitch, one swing of the bat, can turn around a baseball game in an instant. Such was the case on Saturday night at Doak Field.
Stuart Tapley's grand slam in the eighth inning lifted No. 15 Florida State to a 4-2 victory over N.C. State, a drive to left field that turned the emotions in both dugouts just as dramatically as it changed the course of the game.
"This was one of those games you see every night on the major league level," Florida State coach Mike Martin said after his Seminoles (24-12, 11-7 ACC) had won their second straight over the Wolfpack (19-20, 7-13). It comes down to one pitch so many times. We just happened to be on the other end of it tonight."
Martin smiled, feeling good about his team and happy for freshman left-hander Brian Busch, who gave up five hits and two Wolfpack runs in seven innings. Busch emerged as the winning pitcher, thanks to Tapley's 11th homer of the season and second in two games against the Wolfpack.
"It's always tough when you get a pitching performance like we got tonight and you're sitting over there saying, 'Gosh is this going to be for naught?' " Martin said. "This young man's pitched well all year. He has certainly has some outings in which he deserved better than he got."
In the other dugout, the hard-luck pitcher was Wolfpack lefty John Lambert, who shut the Noles out for six innings on four hits before giving way to the bullpen. Jake Buchanan came on in the seventh and took a 2-0 lead into the pivotal eighth.
Buchanan walked two batters and gave up a single to load the bases in the eighth. In stepped Tapley, who hit a 1-1 pitch over the wall -- a curve ball that stayed up and out over the plate.
"You can't walk people," N.C. State coach Elliott Avent said. "We've done this it seems like all year long [from] the sixth inning on. ... It's part of the game. It's not like we've walked a lot of people, it's just our walks have really been costly."
Avent was subdued after the late-game turn of events, a potential win over the Seminoles gone in one swing. The Noles won the first two games of the series and will try for a sweep in the finale today beginning at 1 p.m. at Doak Field.
"He threw him a breaking ball," Avent said of Tapley's slam. "It looked like he was sitting on it and [Buchanan] got it up a little and [Tapley] hit it out. The guy's a good hitter."
The frustration was apparent for Avent, who has guided the Wolfpack to six straight NCAA appearances and made the regionals in nine of his first 12 seasons at State. But he will hard-pressed to reach that goal in his 13th season with the Pack -- an ACC Tournament championship more and more likely looming as the only avenue for the Pack to make the NCAA field. And each league loss lessens the chances of State making the eight-team ACC Tournament.
"We just haven't pieced it together [this season]," Avent said. "We didn't really hit at all early on. Right now, I wouldn't call us a powerhouse, but we are putting some innings together. We've still got a ways to go offensively, but our bullpen has been very thin lately and a little bit banged-up. It's been really tough in the late innings."
For Martin and the Seminoles, the season is headed in the other direction. After a 9-7 start that included a 1-3 record in ACC, Florida State has climbed back into the national rankings -- winning 10 of their past 14 ACC games and 15 of 20 overall.
"I'm very excited about what I'm seeing," Martin said. "I know there is a lot of baseball yet to be played [this season], but to win a ballgame on the road when you are behind after the seventh inning is huge. Every game from here on out is huge."
The Seminoles have gotten it done with a pair of freshmen in the starting rotation.
"They have surfaced," Martin said of Busch and Sean Gilmartin, who improved to 7-1 with the win Friday night. "They have won the job. I don't remember when we've had two freshmen in the rotation."
That's saying something. Martin is in his 30th season as head coach at FSU.
But you don't win more than 1,500 games by being afraid to put a freshman on the mound if he's got the stuff to do the job.
"That's the way we recruit," Martin said. "Our young men know when they come in they will have every opportunity to pitch. May the best man win."