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Young talent leads FSU baseball into NCAA Tournament

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Can the Seminoles' exceptionally talented youngsters lead them to postseason success?

FSU freshman catcher Cal Raleigh
FSU freshman catcher Cal Raleigh
Larry Novey

Entering this season, one thing was clear about the Florida State baseball team: it's a very young group across the board.

The 2016 Seminoles are so young, in fact, that they have only one consistent contributor on offense who is a senior (John Sansone) and one senior starting pitcher (Mike Compton, who has not been used as a starter since May 6th against Bowling Green).

Although the youth of the team has been exposed at times this year by inconsistent play, many of the players who entered the 2016 season with little, if any, collegiate experience are now some of the biggest contributors to the team, particularly on the pitching staff.

Perhaps the biggest freshman who has emerged down the stretch is starting pitcher Tyler Holton, a local product out of nearby Lincoln High School. Holton did not make his first weekend start until two weeks ago against Miami. However, since entering the weekend rotation, he has more than earned his spot, shutting down the potent Hurricanes in consecutive weeks. Over those two starts against UM, he allowed a pair of runs in each game while striking out 17 Miami batters in his 13 combined innings.

"He has earned the right to pitch the second game [of this weekend's regional]," Florida State head coach Mike Martin said of Holton on Monday. "He has thrown very well and he understands the game."

However, Holton is only one piece of Florida State's starting pitching situation for the upcoming Tallahassee Regional. He will be joined by sophomore Drew Carlton, who will pitch Friday's opener of the regional against Alabama State, and true freshman Cole Sands, who will pitch the third game of the weekend. Even though each of the three has really emerged in recent weeks, showing what they are capable of on a big stage, the biggest strength of this Florida State rotation may be that each of them will be back on next year's team.

The Seminoles' offense is in a similar situation. Yes, Sansone, the senior third baseman has been a crucial part of FSU's offensive production throughout the season. Outside of him, however, much of Florida State's success has come from younger players. A pair of true freshmen, catcher Cal Raleigh and left fielder Jackson Lueck, have emerged as two of FSU's most consistent contributors. Raleigh's nine home runs and 47 RBI are tied for second-most on the team and Lueck leads the team with a .407 batting average and  .522 on-base percentage.

According to Mike Martin, though, those two, along with the rest of the 2015 class, are no longer freshmen in his book.

"We have a saying here at Florida State," Martin recently shared. "You're a freshman through April but when May gets here, you are no longer a freshman."

Those two, along with the emerging freshmen on the pitching staff, seem to have taken that to heart and shown that they are not to be defined by their grade level but rather by their talent level.

When adding in the breakout sophomore seasons of Taylor Walls, who has added over 130 points to his batting average from his freshman campaign, and Dylan Busby, who has a team-high 12 home runs, the future of the Seminoles looks bright. Although there's no denying that the upcoming Tallahassee Regional will challenge FSU and if the 'Noles are able to survive that, it will almost assuredly be a significantly stiffer test in the form of Florida, the No. 1 overall seed in the NCAA Tournament, in the ensuing super regional, a Florida State team that has shown growth down the stretch and found its groove again in last week's ACC Tournament just may able to compete against some of the best teams in the nation.