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No. 9 FSU baseball weekend preview: 2/28-3/1 vs. FAU, No. 5 Texas Tech

The Owls and Red Raiders come to town with a combined 15-1 record

NCAA Baseball: College World Series-Florida State vs Texas Tech Steven Branscombe-USA TODAY Sports

Florida State enters this weekend with a 6-1 record and their first top ten ranking of the season after sweeping Cincinnati. The ‘Noles will get their first real tests of the season as #5 Texas Tech and FAU head to Tallahassee with a 15-1 combined record. Despite a 6-1 record, FSU has played anything but clean baseball and will have to play much better to be successful over their next nine games. FSU’s next five opponents have combined to start the season 38-2.

The Seminoles are top 10 in on base percentage (.453) and top 15 in strikeouts (12.1 K/9) on the mound. On the flip side, Florida State is in the bottom 10 in the nation with a .935 fielding percentage. FAU and TT have combined to make 9 errors on the season, while FSU has 17.

Texas Tech (8-1) eliminated the Seminoles from the College World Series last year and are once again one of the best teams in the nation. Tim Tadlock has built a perennial national title contender in Lubbock. Despite losing the likes of Josh Jung and Cam Warren, the Red Raiders have been on fire to start the season. Tech is top three in the nation in batting average (.351), on base percentage (.474), and slugging percentage (.598). The pitching staff also sits in the top 30 with a 1.04 WHIP.

After Florida State started their 2019 postseason run with a win over FAU in the Athens regional, the Owls will look to get their revenge on the ‘Noles this weekend, as they enter with a perfect 7-0 record. The Owls are top 20 in the nation in batting average (.311), on base percentage (.463), and slugging percentage (.516). On the mound, the Owls have posted a 3.97 ERA and 1.41 WHIP. This is once again a NCAA-tournament quality team for head coach John McCormack.

Friday 2/28, 6:00 PM vs. FAU

Probable Starters: RHP Jacob Josey vs. RHP CJ Van Eyk

How to watch: ACC Network Extra

CJ Van Eyk will look to get back on track after a bumpy start last Friday. The RHP just didn’t have his best stuff last week, as he walked four and gave up five hits in 3.2 innings. On an extremely chilly night in Tallahassee, the junior didn’t look loose or like his usual self. With an in-state opponent and some better weather, Van Eyk should be more focused on Friday night. Being the first starter of four games on the weekend, CJ will have to eat up some innings on the hill.

The Seminoles will get FAU’s Friday night starter Jacob Josey, despite FAU taking on Texas Tech Friday afternoon. Josey has had an up-and-down season so far, going four innings of one-run ball on opening day, before giving up five runs to Binghamton last week. Josey has thrown strikes, walking just one batter, but has already given up 10 hits and two home runs on the season.

Saturday 2/29, 2:00 PM vs. FAU

Probable Starters: FAU TBD vs. LHP Bryce Hubbart

How to watch: ACC Network Extra

Bryce Hubbart will get the spot start for the ‘Noles this weekend. Hubbart started the season in the closer role, but will move back to his natural role as a starter. Mike Martin Jr. said the freshman will be working on a 60-65 pitch count Saturday. Since taking the loss on opening day, the freshman has bounced back with two spotless innings. This could be a preview of what we will see in the weekend rotation next season.

FAU is yet to announce a starter for game 2, Jack Collins and Matt Sparling are likely options.

Saturday 2/29, 6:00 PM vs. Texas Tech

Probable Starters: RHP Bryce Bonnin vs. LHP Shane Drohan

How to watch: ACC Network Extra

Shane Drohan will get the first start against Texas Tech and look for his first quality start of the season. Drohan is the only weekend starter yet to toe the mound in the fifth inning. Drohan’s WHIP currently sits at 1.81, as he’s given up seven hits and six walks in 7.2 IP. He’s still managed to give up just three earned runs, as he’s struck out 12 batters. FSU has to have efficiency out of the lefty this weekend.

FSU will look to get their revenge on Bryce Bonnin Saturday night. Bonnin eliminated the Seminoles with five innings of one-run ball. FSU produced just two hits, but walked four times against the RHP. Bonnin possesses a power fastball-slider combo which gets lots of swing-and-misses, as he struck out seven Seminoles. So far this season, Bonnin has struck out 17 batters, walked just one, and given up only five hits in nine innings of work.

Sunday 3/1, 1:00 PM vs. Texas Tech

Probable Starters: RHP Austin Becker vs. RHP Conor Grady

Conor Grady has been the ‘Noles most consistent starter so far this year. The junior has worked 10 innings of one-run ball, giving up just five hits and one walk. Grady has produced a 0.60 WHIP and an 11.7 K/9. The RHP has done a good job of keeping the ball down in the zone and hitting spots to miss bats. Grady will look to get revenge on the Red Raiders after giving up two runs in five innings, while taking the loss in the CWS. To hear what Grady has to say on his upcoming start against the Red Raiders, see below:

Austin Becker will get the start versus FSU on Sunday. The RHP is a transfer from Vanderbilt, where he threw just four innings last year. He was the nation’s No. 11 RHP in the 2018 class. So far this season, Becker has posted a 3.38 ERA in 8 innings. The sophomore has given up six hits while walking five. Becker has given up as many free passes as strikeouts so far this year.

FAU top performers

Mitchell Hartigan is coming off a C-USA hitter of the week honor as he’s started the season off hot. Hartigan is hitting .478 with five extra base hits to start the season. He has more walks than strikeouts so far this year as he’s posted a .594 OBP. The outfielder posted a .918 OPS in his freshman season.

Bobby Morgensen put the ‘Noles on notice in the Athens regional, smashing two home runs in game one against FSU. He hasn’t slowed down to start this year, as he’s hitting .370 with a .556 SLG%. He’s also reaching base 47.1% of his plate appearances.

Francisco Urbaez posted a .322 average and 10 HR’s in his first season at FAU last season. He’s began his senior season with 9 hits in 30 AB’s as the Owls’ leadoff hitter. Retiring Urbaez will be key to the Seminoles’ success against FAU.

Texas Tech top performers

Dylan Neuse gave FSU fits in Omaha, scoring two of the Red Raiders’ four runs against the ‘Noles. After posting a .902 OPS in 2019, the junior has gotten off to a scorching start in 2020, hitting .500 through 9 games. Neuse is currently tied-sixth in the nation with 17 hits on the season.

Nate Rombach has gotten off to an extremely hot start to his college career, with 6 home runs in his first 9 games. His six home runs and 20 RBI are currently tied-second in the nation. He’s also hitting .379 so far this season.

Cal Conley is hitting .387 to start the year with 12 hits. Conley has also added five extra base hits and is 3-3 on stolen base attempts. Through eight starts, the redshirt freshman has posted a 1.149 OPS.

FSU headlines to watch for

Left side of infield

The left side of FSU’s infield has been atrocious to start the year. Nander De Sedas has posted a .731 fielding percentage at shortstop, while Carter Smith and Tyrell Brewer have combined for four errors at third base. Changes will be coming this weekend for the ‘Noles. De Sedas is being shifted back to second base, while Jackson Greene will take over at short. Greene, a natural SS, has posted a .952 FLD% through 7 games and posted a .953 FLD% in 54 games at SS last season. Tyler Martin’s arm is now healthy enough to play third base, so he could be the everyday starter there. So far this season, ground balls to third or short have felt like 50-50 plays. If FSU wants to compete this weekend, they have to play decent defense on that side, or at least just make the routine plays.

Offensive strikeout/walk rates

FSU has both struck out and walked at ridiculous rates to start this season. The Seminoles offense has posted a 12.7 K/9 to start the season, but also drawn walks at the highest rate of any team in the nation. This weekend, both FAU and Texas Tech will throw strikes at a much higher rate than Cincinnati and Niagara. Texas Tech will also bring multiple power arms to the hill. FSU is going to have to swing the bat and put the ball in play to have a decent weekend.

Depth of pitching staff

The depth of FSU’s pitching staff is the strength of this team, but just how strong it is will be tested this weekend. The Seminoles will have to throw at least 36 innings before heading to Mercer on one day’s rest. FSU’s starters are still on pitch counts this early in the season, so the ‘pen will likely have to eat at least 3-4 innings in each game. Saturday, Hubbart’s pitch count will likely limit him to four innings at the most and Drohan is yet to touch the mound in the fifth inning this season. The bullpen may be tasked with 10 innings alone in Saturday’s double header. Antonio Velez and Chase Haney will likely be asked to eat 3+ innings each this weekend.

For Mike Martin Jr. and Robby Martin’s interviews previewing this weekend’s FSU tournament, see below: