TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – Playing for the first time in 248 days, the fifth-ranked Florida State baseball team will host VCU for a three-game set beginning with Opening Day on Friday at 4:00 p.m. at Dick Howser Stadium in Tallahassee. The Seminoles and Rams are meeting for the first time in program history.
Saturday’s game will begin at 1:00 p.m., while Sunday’s finale will start at 12:30 p.m. All three games will stream live on ACC Network Extra (formerly ESPN3) and fans can listen live to play-by-play man Eric Luallen on 106.1 FM in Tallahassee or through the FSU GameDay App.
For the Seminoles on the mound, junior Drew Carlton (8-3, 3.94) will get the nod on Opening Day. His last time out, in Game 1 of the Super Regionals at Florida in June, Carlton threw a complete game shutout, holding the Gators to just two hits while striking out five and walking none. It was FSU’s first shutout in a Super Regional or College World Series game since 1987.
Sophomore Cole Sands (6-7, 4.13) will start for the Seminoles Saturday afternoon and sophomore Tyler Holton (3-4, 2.79) will be on the hill Sunday. The Seminoles return the weekend rotation from a season ago.
Florida State opens the season having won 18 consecutive games on Opening Day, dating back to a loss against Notre Dame in 1998. Under head coach Mike Martin, entering his 38th season as Seminole skipper, Florida State is 34-3 and has won 34 of the past 35.
Martin enters 2017 as the winningest active coach in college baseball with a record of 1,898-671-4 and can reach win No. 1,900 this weekend against the Rams. With the retirement of Texas’ Augie Garrido at the end of last season, Martin needs just 78 wins to become college baseball’s all-time winningest coach.
Martin has perhaps one of his most talented lineups entering this season, and publications around the country have taken notice. The Seminoles rank between No. 2 and No. 5 in five publications. Baseball America has the Noles ranked second, while D1Baseball.com and Perfect Game have the Noles ranked third. The NCBWA has FSU ranked fourth, while the USA Today/ESPN Coaches poll has FSU ranked fifth.
The Seminoles are led offensively by four preseason All-Americans – junior shortstop Taylor Walls, junior third baseman Dylan Busby, sophomore catcher Cal Raleigh and sophomore outfielder Jackson Lueck. Along with first baseman Quincy Nieporte, the Seminoles return five of their top six hitters from a season ago, with all five batting .300 or better.
Along with the three weekend starters returning for Florida State, Martin announced earlier this week that the closer to begin the season will be senior Jim Voyles. Voyles was 6-1 with a pair of saves in 2016.
Andrew Karp is the Seminoles fourth starter and will be on the mound Tuesday against USF. The redshirt sophomore is expected to pitch a few innings this weekend.
Among a talented crop of newcomers, ranked a top 10 recruiting class, is starting centerfielder J.C. Flowers. The Orange Park, Fla., native takes over for three-year starter Ben DeLuzio, who signed a free agent contract in the summer. Flowers was a two-sport star at Trinity Christian Academy, where he also played wide receiver for the football team.
FSU’s other top prospect entering the season, Drew Mendoza, will miss the first month of the season after sustaining a broken thumb in practice last week. The Minneola, Fla., native was the highest-ranked high school athlete to attend college. Martin said Mendoza could miss the first six weeks of the season.
In Mendoza’s absence, the Seminoles will send Busby back to third base, where he started 57 games in 2015 as a freshman before starting 62 games at first base last year. Nieporte will play first base, where he started 47 games in 2015. Walls and senior second baseman Matt Henderson will cover the middle of the infield, with Raleigh returning behind the plate.
Joining Lueck in leftfield and Flowers in centerfield will be either of two newcomers in rightfield: freshman Nick Derr or junior college transfer Rhett Aplin. Derr, from Lakewood Ranch, Fla., was taken in the 33rd round of the 2016 MLB Draft and hit .405 with 31 stolen bases for Sarasota High School last year. Aplin played the last two seasons with Seminole State College of Florida after being named the 7A Player of the Year in 2014 from Fleming Island High School in Fleming Island, Fla.
Like Florida State, VCU returns its top three starters from a season ago. The Rams will pitch Sean Thompson (6-1, 3.28) Friday night, with Michael Dailey (6-0, 1.57) and Brooks Vial (8-4, 4.05) finishing out the weekend. VCU finished 2016 38-19 after reaching the Super Regionals in 2015.
The Rams closer, Sam Donko, led the nation with 20 saves a season ago and is a first team All-American entering the year.
For more information on Florida State baseball, check Seminoles.com for the latest news and scheduling information, or keep up with the team on social media through Twitter (@FSUBaseball), Facebook (/FSUBaseball), and Instagram (@NoleBaseball).