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The ‘Lord of No Rings’ gets one final crack at the elusive brass ring

FILE: Florida State University Head Coach Mike Martin (Icon Sportswire)

Head coach Mike Martin, the winningest coach in college baseball history, undoubtedly breathed a sigh of relief on Monday when his Florida State Seminoles (36-21) received an at-large bid to the 64-team NCAA Tournament — a bid that probably had much more to do with Martin himself than the kind of season FSU, which struggled through much of the season, had on the diamond.

Martin’s teams have won a staggering 2,023 games — and counting.

Third-seeded FSU will face Florida Atlantic (40-19) at noon Friday at 3,291-seat Foley Field in the Athens Regional. FAU, which captured the Conference-USA regular season title but faltered in the tournament’s championship game when it lost to Southern Miss 4-0 on Sunday, is the No. 2 seed in Athens.

Florida Atlantic has appeared in the NCAA Tournament four times in the past five years. The Owls, who upset top-seeded Florida in the Gainesville Regional last year before losing in the final of the double-elimination tournament and had impressive road wins at Florida, Miami and UCF this season, almost assuredly won’t be any easy out in Athens.

Host Georgia (44-15), the regional’s No. 1 seed, will play fourth-seeded Mercer (35-27) at 7 p.m. Friday. Mercer won the Southern Conference tournament championship and its automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament by defeating Wofford twice on Sunday.

Along with nationally-ranked Georgia and Georgia Tech, Mercer — one of the longest of the long-shots in this year’s field — is one of three Georgia universities competing in this year’s tournament.

FILE: Florida State head coach Mike Martin talks tactics with his team prior to the start of the NCCA Division I Tallahassee Super Regional. (Logan Stanford/Icon Sportswire)

This is the sixth time that Georgia, which is making its 12th overall appearance in an NCAA Regional, has hosted a regional at Foley Field. The Bulldogs won four of the previous five regionals played on their home field, winning the regionals in 2001, 2004, 2006 and 2008, but stumbling last season when 18th-ranked Duke won the regional by defeating Georgia 8-5 and 8-4 on the final day of the regional while advancing to the best-of-three Super Regionals.

The seventh-ranked Georgia Bulldogs, who are seeded fourth nationally, have been virtually unbeatable in Athens this year, posting a blistering 28-3 record at home. Their only losses were a stunning, if not inexplicable, 1-0 setback to LIU-Brooklyn (20-33) in late February, another 1-0 loss to nationally-ranked LSU on March 22nd, and a heartbreaking 3-2 extra-inning defeat at the hands of second-ranked Vanderbilt in early April.

Martin had been worried — and for good reason — that his team wouldn’t make the tournament for the first time in his forty years at the helm.

Florida State, moreover, hadn’t missed the NCAA Tournament since 1977, three years before Martin replaced the legendary Dick Howser as FSU’s mentor.

“I couldn’t sleep worth a ‘dern’ last night,” Martin admitted with a chuckle shortly after his team was selected yesterday. “And I usually can sleep through a hurricane.”

Thanks to the generosity of the NCAA Selection Committee — a committee obviously friendly to both the ACC and the SEC, which have a combined eighteen teams in this year’s tournament while hosting nine of the sixteen four-team regionals — Martin has now managed to get his team into the tournament every single year since being named head coach in 1980 when his friend and colleague Dick Howser left to become manager of the New York Yankees.

That’s a mind-boggling forty straight NCAA Tournament appearances.

Remarkably, Martin’s teams have advanced to the College World Series in Omaha on no fewer than sixteen occasions, most recently in 2017, but have never won the national championship.

The Seminoles came closest in 1986 and 1999 when they were runners-up to Arizona and Miami, respectively.

Failure to win the CWS invariably led to taunts from fans of archrival Florida, who mischievously dubbed Martin the “Lord of No Rings.” The Gators, of course, won the College World Series in 2017.

Florida and Florida State, of course, are one of the most heated rivalries in all of college sports.

The 75-year-old Martin, who is retiring at the end of this season, has one more chance at the brass ring and one suspects the winningest coach in any sport in NCAA history plans to make the most of it.

One wonders if the aging skipper is secretly hoping that his Seminoles might have a chance to play Florida — another club lucky to make the 64-team field yesterday — a couple of weeks from now in Omaha.

Stranger things have happened.

Left-hander Drew Parrish (7-5), a junior from Rockledge, Florida, will take mound against Florida Atlantic on Friday.

Darcy G. Richardson is a historian and the author of more than a dozen books. His latest is Loyola's Improbable Ramblers: 55 Years in the Making, available now on Amazon.

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