TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — Plenty of teams have made it to the College World Series with just two quality starting pitchers. But the comfort level is dramatically improved if a program has a dependable No. 3 starter, too.
Or in Florida State’s case, a guy like Brandon Leibrandt, who has 22 career wins.
Leibrandt was well on his way to a career season (4-1, 1.83 ERA) when he was hit on the knee during practice in late March. The junior left-hander figured at first that it would just bruise up but that developed into a bone bruise.
He wasn’t able to pitch until throwing off a mound during practice at last week’s ACC Tournament. On Monday, he threw a simulated game, and coach Mike Martin said Leibrandt will be used as a starter or reliever in the four-team Tallahassee Regional, which begins Friday.
"Just want to contribute," said Leibrandt, the son of former major-leaguer Charlie Leibrandt. "Whatever that situation may be I’ll do it to the best of my ability."
His return makes life very difficult for Alabama, Kennesaw State and Georgia Southern. The Seminoles will essentially have three aces on the mound this weekend, a trio that has combined for 57 college wins.
FSU (43-15) will start right-hander Mike Compton (7-2, 3.06 ERA) on Friday at 6 p.m. against Georgia Southern, preserving ace right-hander Luke Weaver (8-3, 2.66 ERA) for a Saturdaymatchup against either Alabama or Kennesaw State (those teams open the regional Friday at noon).
That leaves Leibrandt available to potentially pitch in a championship game Sunday night. Martin has been fortunate to have some deep rotations through the years, and he regularly enjoys the luxury of being the top seed in a regional. That has allowed him to throw a No. 2 pitcher against the regional’s lowest seeded team Friday and keep his ace ready for a potential matchup with Alabama on Saturday.
"Mike Compton has pitched in a College World Series," Martin said. "He’s been there, done that. We’re very fortunate that we have a No. 2 pitcher that has started in a CWS game (in 2012). … To win the first day is important. But you can’t look past the first day."
FSU could have its hands full Friday with Georgia Southern, which lost in the opener of the Southern Conference tournament but rallied to win five games and take the automatic bid for the NCAA tournament. The Eagles have upset a few ACC and SEC teams — and done it with blowout wins.
Georgia Southern took two of three at Georgia, routing the Bulldogs 9-3 and 18-4. And the Eagles edged Georgia Tech 4-3 at home. Georgia Southern also split midweek games with Clemson, winning 14-5 and falling 5-4.
All of those games were held more than two months ago. But it’s an indication of what Georgia Southern is capable of doing, and that would be throwing Florida State off track as it attempts to advance to a Super Regional and return to the CWS.
"Georgia Southern is not a team that you can overlook," Martin said. "They are a scrappy bunch, well coached. We will never look at an opponent in the postseason as an easy game. There are no easy games when you get to the postseason."
The regional also features a potential top-10 draft pick in Kennesaw State’s Max Pentecost. The catcher was the MVP of the Cape Cod League, the wood-bat league that is a showcase or the best college players. And this season, the junior hit .423 with nine home runs, 21 doubles, 57 runs and 55 RBI.
"He’s got a strong chance to be drafted in the top 10 picks and is a lock first-rounder," Baseball America writer Aaron Fitt said. "He’s the best all-around college catching prospect in this draft."
NO. 1 SEED FLORIDA STATE
Coach: Mike Martin
Leading hitters: OF DJ Stewart (.348, 7 HR, 19 doubles, 48 RBI, 45 runs), 3B Jose Brizuela (.325, 4 HR, 14 doubles, 38 RBI, 45 runs), 1B John Nogowski (.311, 5 HR, 12 doubles, 49 RBI, 47 runs).
Top pitchers: RHP Luke Weaver (8-3, 2.66 ERA), RHP Mike Compton (7-2, 3.06 ERA), RHP Jameis Winston (1-0, 1.17 ERA, 7 saves), RHP Gage Smith (5-2, 2.08 ERA).
No. 2 SEED ALABAMA
Coach: Mitch Gaspard
Leading hitters: 1B Austen Smith (.316, 6 HR, 10 doubles, 36 RBI), C Wade Wass (.305, 4 HR, 19 doubles, 31 RBI), OF Ben Moore (.305, 9 HR, 11 doubles, 42 runs, 35 RBI), INF Mikey White (.303, 6 HR, 44 runs, 32 RBI).