(Part 6 of a College World Series preview series)
Florida State endured its share of ups and downs through the first two-thirds of the season, but the Seminoles appear to be peaking at the right time.
After dropping two-of-three to Atlantic Coast Conference rival Wake Forest in mid-May, the Seminoles started to click.
Besides qualifying for the NCAA Tournament for the 40th straight year — the longest active streak in the nation — Florida State has reached the College World Series for the first time since 2012.
Winners of 12 of their last 13, the 'Noles take on an LSU (48-17) team that has won 16 straight on Saturday at 7 p.m. at TD Ameritrade Park in Omaha, Nebraska.
Making their 22nd trip to Omaha, including their 16th in coach Mike Martin's 38-year tenure, the Seminoles are still searching for their first national championship. Florida State has advanced to the finals twice, finishing as the national runner-up in 1986 and 1999.
Florida State's only loss during its recent hot streak came at the hands of Tennessee Tech (3-1) in the Tallahassee Regional opener. Since then, the 'Noles have won seven straight, taking care of Central Florida (6-1), Tennessee Tech (5-3), and Auburn (8-7 in 10 innings and 6-0 in the Regional championship game).
Remaining in Tallahassee for the Super Regional, the Seminoles edged Southland Conference Tournament champ Sam Houston State 7-6 in Game 1 before running away with Game 2, 19-0.
Florida State carries a .272 team batting average into the CWS and ranks first among the eight-team field with 7.39 runs per game and 72 home runs.
Junior shortstop Taylor Walls and junior third baseman Dylan Busby are the Seminoles' catalysts from the top two spots in the order. Both were drafted in the third round on Tuesday —Walls by the Tampa Bay Rays; Busby by the Pittsburgh Pirates.
Walls is batting .276 with a .421 on base percentage, eight home runs and 47 runs batted in while setting team highs in runs (78), bases on balls (63) and stolen bases (10-for-12).
Busby has set team standards with 140 total bases, 14 home runs, 20 doubles and a .596 slugging percentage. Additionally, he has compiled a .315 batting average while driving in 62 runs and scoring 55.
Sophomore left fielder Jason Lueck (.327 batting average, 9 HR, 54 RBI) and senior designated hitter Quincy Nieporte (.305-10-78, 20 doubles. .508 slugging pct.) bat third and fourth, respectively.
Batting from the No. 5 hole, sophomore catcher Cal Raleigh (.287-8-37) is the only FSU player to have appeared in all 66 games.
Drew Mendoza (.263-8-31), a freshman All-American, bats sixth.
Other starters include senior second baseman Matt Henderson (.265-0-21) and freshman center fielder J.C. Flowers (.239-2-32) with sophomore Tyler Holton (.268-2-9) or Steven Wells Jr. (.233-1-6) in right.
Holton, the Seminoles' lone first-team All-ACC honoree, has also been a fixture on the mound. A hometown product from Tallahassee's Lincoln High School, the left-hander owns a 10-2 record with a 2.25 ERA. He has struck out 139 while walking a mere 21 and holding opposing batters to a .171 average over the course of a staff-high 112 innings.
Joining Holton in the starting rotation are freshman lefty Drew Parrish (6-3, 4.40) and sophomore right-hander Cole Sands (6-3, 5.05).
Senior lefty Alec Byrd (4-2, 4.31) and junior righty Drew Carlton (5-4, 1.98, 6 saves) are the mainstays of the bullpen.