- Jason King
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OMAHA, Neb. -- Scott Sitz doesn't need a baseball in his hand to respond to a challenge.
In April, after being goaded by his roommate, the Florida State pitcher abandoned his razor and watched as facial hair began to alter his appearance. The dare was only supposed to last a few weeks, but Sitz liked his new look so much that he has now gone more than two months without shaving above his upper lip.
"The Burrito Bandito," said Seminoles coach Mike Martin, and he isn't the only one with a nickname for Sitz and his thick, 1970s-style mustache.
Sitz's teammates call him "Nacho Libre" in reference to the movie character played by Jack Black, and ESPN broadcasters played along on Tuesday by placing a picture of Sitz next to the actor during the telecast of Florida State's clash with UCLA in the College World Series.
By the time the game was over, though, Sitz's 'stache wasn't the main thing commanding attention in Omaha.
His pitching was.
In what was easily the best performance of his three-year career, Sitz sparked Florida State to a 4-1 win by limiting the Bruins -- one of college baseball's best-hitting teams -- to just one run on five hits.
The junior's crowning moment came after UCLA loaded the bases with no outs in the sixth inning. Rather than flounder in a tense moment, Sitz flourished by striking out three straight Bruins' hitters. He said he "blacked out" after recording the final out and had to ask his catcher if the last hitter swung at the third strike or watched it go by.
"I don't think I've ever been that pumped up in my life," Sitz said.
When Sitz exited the game with two outs in the seventh, more than half of the 23,000 fans at TD Ameritrade Park rewarded him with a standing ovation. It was a well-deserved gesture for a hurler who hadn't pitched in 18 days.
Sitz, who improved to 4-3, threw a career-high 103 pitches in Tuesday's win. More importantly, he propelled Florida State to a rematch against Arizona on Thursday. The Wildcats needed 12 innings to defeat the Seminoles 4-3 on Friday.
"We're not going to change our approach," third baseman Sherman Johnson said. "We'll just have to be more disciplined than last time and play great baseball."
Florida State's chances of advancing will certainly be enhanced if freshman starter Brandon Leibrandt can muster a performance half as good as the one Sitz turned in Tuesday.
Sitz did a good job of keeping his fastball low in the strike zone, but it was a biting slider that helped him fan eight UCLA hitters. The Bruins looked particularly inept in the sixth, when their 4-5-6 hitters flailed helplessly at Sitz's out-pitch with the bases loaded.
"I just kept thinking, 'This could be my last batter. I've got to get these guys,'" Sitz said. "That was probably the best I've thrown a [slider] all year. I finally found everything I was doing wrong and fixed it and threw some quality pitches tonight."
The situation couldn't have been more deflating for the Bruins. The NCAA tournament's No. 2 overall seed entered the game hitting .307 as a team.
"It was tough," first baseman Trevor Brown said. "Right when we felt we had a little mojo going our way we all felt it was going to be a big inning. We all got out of character and got a little too excited. We weren't as patient as we should've been at the plate."
Leadoff hitter Beau Amaral agreed.
"We've got to tip our hat to their pitcher," said Amaral, who had two of his team's five hits. "He was in a tight spot. We had our opportunity to get back into the game. We got one run, but he definitely shut us down and made some good pitches against us."
Florida State relievers Hunter Scantling and Robert Benincasa worked the final 2 1/3 innings without allowing a baserunner.
Sitz, though, was the one clutching a gold, WWE-style wrestling belt as Florida State's players walked off the field. He said his teammates handed him the toy trinket after voting him "player of the game."
Satisfying as the honor may have been, Sitz and the Seminoles hope to be clutching a real trophy less than a week from now. Florida State has been to the College World Series 15 times in Martin's 33 years as head coach but has yet to win the title.
The Seminoles got off to a rough start in Friday's extra-inning loss to Arizona. But now, it appears, they're clawing back.
Just like Sitz in that sixth inning.
"He didn't feel sorry for himself [after loading the bases]," Martin said of Sitz. "He continued to battle and he got his team to the bench. He took charge.
"He took charge."