March 31, 2017 - by
Around The Bases: UNC Series Kicks Off Gauntlet Stretch

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – Mike Martin was thumbing through Florida State’s upcoming schedule Thursday morning and came to a clear conclusion:

The road ahead is about to get very challenging.

Beginning with this weekend’s three-game series against North Carolina, the Seminoles will play eight of their next 12 games against teams ranked in the top 10 of the NCAA’s ratings percentage index (RPI).

And that doesn’t include a home game on April 11 against rival Florida, which is No. 22 in the RPI.

“Look closely at our schedule for the next 20 ballgames,” Martin said. “And I’ll challenge anybody in the country that they ain’t playing a tougher one than we are.”

It starts Friday against the Tar Heels, who are 19-6 this season and boast one of the country’s top draft prospects in junior J.B. Bukauskas.

From there, the Seminoles will play two games against Florida Gulf Coast (eighth in RPI), three at North Carolina State (51st), one against UF and three at home versus Clemson (fifth).

The teams that follow are no slouches either: FSU will round out the month by playing Stetson, at Miami and home against Virginia.

The schedule may be as tough as any in the country, but the Seminoles said they’re ready to embrace the challenge.

“We all love going out there and playing against good teams,” sophomore outfielder Jackson Lueck said.

And besides, as Martin noted, FSU has plenty of reasons for confidence, too. The Seminoles have won four of their last five games, and they’ll be spending most of the coming month at home, where they’re 11-3 this season.

“We need to just play like we’re capable of playing,” Martin said. “We’ve got a good ball club. Nothing has changed.”

Noles brace for hard-throwing Tar Heel

Florida State on Friday will get a look at one of the nation’s top collegiate pitchers in UNC junior J.B. Bukauskas.

The 6-foot-1, 201-pound right-hander is 4-0 this season and ranks 14th nationally with a 0.90 earned-runs average. His fastball consistently reaches the mid-90s, and he is capable of reaching 100 miles per hour.

Baseball America projected Bukauskas to be picked fourth overall by the Tampa Bay Rays in the MLB draft later this year.

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“Gosh, he can let it go,” Martin said. “He’s the real deal. … It’s hard to simulate 100 miles an hour.”

Lueck said that Bukauskas also features a good slider, which in turn can make his fastball even more challenging.

“He’s definitely a great pitcher and he definitely throws hard,” Lueck said. “We’re trying to prepare for him and we’re excited for it.”

Busby, Mendoza still on the mend

The Seminoles also expect to get a boost soon in the form of junior slugger Dylan Busby and highly-touted freshman Drew Mendoza, both of whom are working their way back from injuries.

Busby missed Tuesday’s game against Florida with a shoulder ailment, while Mendoza has yet to play this season while recovering from thumb surgery.

Martin didn’t rule out either player for the UNC series, but sounded more optimistic about Busby’s chances.

“Both will play when they tell me they’re ready,” Martin said.  “I’m not going to try to rush either guy back.

“I can tell you that Drew is one that is chomping at the bit. Busby, of course, is disappointed. … He is rehabbing religiously.”

Busby (.265/.324/.480) is one of FSU’s top offensive catalysts and a preseason All-American. Mendoza, meanwhile, is one of the most sought-after freshmen in the program’s recent history.

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