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Countdown To First Pitch: 2009 Seminole Baseball Preview
Senior captain Ruairi O'Connor.

Senior captain Ruairi O'Connor.

Jan. 28, 2009

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. - Florida State Baseball is gearing up for what looks to be an exciting season in 2009. Following a run to the College World Series last year, the Seminoles hope to make a return trip to Omaha in '09 returning 18 letterwinners, including five position starters, while welcoming 13 newcomers.

To provide fans with an inside look into the 2009 season, Seminoles.com is featuring daily highlights including interviews with all 33 players as well as a preview for the upcoming season as we count down the days to first pitch on Friday, February 20 against Hofstra.

With 23 days before the season opener against the Pride, Seminoles.com sat down with head coach Mike Martin, who enters his 30th season at the helm of the Seminole Baseball program in 2009, for a preview of the upcoming season.

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GENERAL OUTLOOK
* Florida State returns five position starters and eight pitchers who saw action off the mound in 2008 including a trio of starting pitchers in senior Bo O'Dell and sophomores Mike McGee and Geoff Parker. In all, the Seminoles welcome back 18 of 28 letterwinners for the upcoming season. Twenty-three of the 33 players listed on this year's rosters are freshmen and sophomores.

* The Seminoles return seven hitters from last year's squad who posted an average of .300 or higher including Freshman All-American Stuart Tapley who finished second on the team and fifth in the ACC with a .383 average. The 2008 squad led the nation in hitting with a .355 average while breaking the record for the highest team batting average in school history as well as in the ACC.

* FSU's 2009 recruiting class, which was ranked No. 8 by Collegiate Baseball, features 13 newcomers including 10 freshmen. Included in this year's class are three transfers - Rafael Lopez (Indian River Community College), Robby Stahl (Tallahassee Community College) and Mike Meschke (North Florida Community College).

* Florida State enters the season looking to build off last year's 24-6 league mark and second consecutive ACC Atlantic Division title. The Seminoles have averaged just over 50 wins since 2000 and will chase their 32nd consecutive NCAA Regional appearance in 2009, the second longest streak in the nation.

* The Seminoles will start the season ranked as high as sixth by the National Collegiate Baseball Writers Association. Three other preseason polls rank Florida State in the top 10 including seventh by Collegiate Baseball, tied for ninth by ESPN/USA Today and 10th by Rivals.com. Baseball America rounded out the preseason rankings placing the Seminoles at No. 24. Stuart Tapley was named a Preseason All-American, while Tyler Holt and Jason Stidham joined Tapley on the watch list for the Brooks Wallace Award.

MARTIN ON THE UPCOMING SEASON: "We've got a good nucleus returning certainly when you have a three-year starter in Jason Stidham as well as major contributors back from last year including (Stuart) Tapley, (Tyler) Holt, (Ohmed) Danesh, (Tommy) Oravetz and (Mike) McGee. You certainly feel comfortable but when you start analyzing the ball club, the pitching is what will be the difference. Many of our pitchers have not been put in a situation of pitching on the road or behind a couple of runs late in a game. I am thinking of guys like Brian Busch, Austin Wood and Sean Gilmartin, young men we are really counting on as freshman. We will also have a catcher starting for the first time. There in lies the big question, how well will we perform with an inexperienced club?"

THE SCHEDULE
* Eleven teams on this year's schedule recorded 28 or more wins a season ago. Six schools earned a bid to participate in an NCAA Regional in 2008 with two teams advancing to the College World Series. A total of four schools on the slate in 2009 finished last year ranked in the top 25.

* The Seminoles will compete in a 30-game ACC schedule for the fourth year in a row. The schedule features all but one league school (Duke). Since the ACC adopted divisional play in 2006, the Seminoles have posted a league record of 64-25 and have captured back-to-back Atlantic Division titles. Over the last three seasons, Florida State has faired well both at home and on the road in the ACC going 33-12 and 31-13, respectively.

* Florida State's non-conference schedule is highlighted by two teams from the SEC including four games against Auburn and three against state rival Florida. For the third year in a row, the Seminoles and Gators will face-off at the Baseball Grounds in Jacksonville for one game. Over the last two years, the neutral site meeting has drawn over 19,000 fans including a record crowd of 12,280 in 2007, the largest crowd ever to witness a collegiate baseball game in the state of Florida.

* The 2009 schedule also pits a pair of first time opponents in Florida Gulf Coast (Atlantic Sun) and High Point (Big South). FGCU finished 2008 38-15 claiming the Atlantic Sun regular season title. The Seminoles will wrap-up the regular season at home with a three-game set against Grambling State University. The Tigers rank as the fifth winningest team all-time in NCAA Division I history.

MARTIN ON THE SCHEDULE: "The ACC will once again be extremely difficult especially when you traditionally have seven or eight schools playing in the postseason year after year. Look for schools that did not make the conference tournament last year to really have a strong influence on others success. Once again this league is really strong. Our non-conference schedule looks to be very strong and difficult this year as well. We got Auburn, Florida and Jacksonville, who just missed out on playing in a regional last year. Florida Gulf Coast, who won the Atlantic Sun last year, did not of course participate in postseason because they hadn't been a division one school long enough. North Florida will be improved. I will look at our schedule and say it's just typical of what we encounter year after year, very difficult and challenging from opening day on through the conference tournament."

LEADERSHIP
* Florida State returns six position starters, including Tyler Holt, Ohmed Danesh, Mike McGee, Stuart Tapley, Jason Stidham and Tommy Oravetz, that combined to play in 578 games. Last year, those returning Seminoles combined to hit .337 on 392 hits in 1,164 at-bats. Eight hurlers enter the 2009 season with a combined 288 innings of work last year. Sophomores Mike McGee and Geoff Parker lead all pitchers with nine starts apiece.

* Seniors Jimmy Marshall, Tommy Oravetz and Ruairi O'Connor were named team captains for the upcoming season. Marshall has pitched in 80 games since 2006 including 78 in relief which ranks 10th all-time at Florida State. Oravetz is coming off a junior season in which he registered career numbers in every offensive category. O'Connor is a career .276 hitter for the Seminoles and will display his versatility on the field, at the plate and on the base paths during the upcoming season.

MARTIN ON THE LEADERSHIP OF THIS YEAR'S TEAM: "The more I'm around this club, the more I like it. My biggest concern is who are going to be the leaders. Who are going to be the men that replace Buster Posey, Jack Rye and Dennis Guinn, or going back even further, a guy like Bryan Henry. Leadership is probably the most underrated aspect of team building. Buster Posey was the leader of our team last year. At the present time, it will be interesting to see who emerges into that role as we approach the beginning of the season."

NEWCOMERS
* Florida State welcomes 13 new players this season, including 10 freshmen and three transfers. It is the second most freshmen listed on an opening day roster since 2005 when FSU opened the season with 13. That year's freshman class included such names as Tony Thomas, Jr., Mark Gildea, Ryan Strauss, Dennis Guinn, Jack Rye and Ruairi O'Connor. Over the last six years, head coach Mike Martin has welcomed 70 freshmen into the Seminole baseball family.

* The Seminoles were recognized by Collegiate Baseball with the nation's eighth best recruiting class in 2009. Since associate head coach Jamey Shouppe took over recruiting coordinator duties in 1990, FSU has had a class ranked in the top 25 each year while 13 of his classes have been ranked in the top 10. Four freshmen were selected in the MLB Draft but opted to postpone their major league career and attend college. Those individuals include Sean Gilmartin, Austin Wood, Kris Castellanos and Hunter Scantling.

* This year's class features three transfer students who come to Florida State with prior playing experience and will look to make an immediate impact for the Garnet and Gold in 2009. Those student-athletes include Rafael Lopez (Boston College/Indian River Community College), Mike Meschke (North Florida Community College) and Robby Stahl (Tallahassee Community College).

MARTIN ON THE YOUNG PLAYERS: "Johnny Gast, Sean Gilmartin and Brian Busch are the three guys that we're looking at to make major contributions. You also have Kris Castellanos, Ryan Vigue and Mark Peterson that have the ability to contribute. One of those young men will need to really surface. You're always in need of good left handed pitching and certainly we're figuring Gast to be in the rotation. So that leaves Gilmartin and Busch, they're going to play very important roles but they can't pitch everyday. So we'd like to see Peterson, Vigue and Castellanos surface as well. This year's class will provide a lot of depth defensively as well as at the plate. I have been very pleased with their contributions to the team so far and looked forward to watching them progress throughout the year."

THE OFFENSE
* The Seminoles are coming off a season in which they led the nation in four offensive categories including batting average (.355), hits (869), runs (663) and walks (435), while ranking in the top 10 in doubles (2nd), sacrifice flies (2nd), scoring (3rd), slugging percentage (3rd) and home runs (5th). For the second consecutive year, Florida State set the ACC and school record for team batting average.

* Freshman All-American Stuart Tapley is the top returning hitter for the Seminoles in 2009 after posting a .383 average in his first season with the Garnet and Gold. Junior Jason Stidham returns after registering season-highs in home runs (11) and RBI (65) as a sophomore, while Tyler Holt will look to remain active on the base paths after leading the Seminoles last year in runs scored (83) and walks (64).

* Tommy Oravetz is coming off a breakout season in 2008 where he set career, season-highs for batting average (.361), doubles (14), triples (3), home runs (4), RBI (32) and total bases (93). Oravetz finished the season fifth on the team and 11th in the ACC in hitting. He ended 2008 with five, three-hit contests over the last nine games while posting a .750 average (6-for-8) at the College World Series.

* Student-athletes who accounted for 52.9% and 55.5% of FSU's 869 hits and 663 runs, respectively, are back in 2009.

MARTIN ON THE OFFENSE: "We lost 60 home runs from last year's team. I don't think we will be able to replace the number of home runs that we lost. But I do feel that there is some potential for a good year offensively. The returning hitters went through that grueling schedule from last year and you certainly expect improvement. Hopefully, those that are going through it for the first time will make the necessary adjustments to be successful. I've seen quite a few guys in our preseason drills that have made improvements. Tyler Holt, Stuart Tapley and Tommy Oravetz were a big part of our offensive club down the stretch from a season ago. Stephen Cardullo will be given an opportunity to contribute this year. We have the nucleus of a pretty good offensive club. Last year's team did not have a soft spot in the line up; that's what we are striving for this year."

THE DEFENSE
* Junior Jason Stidham will make his third position change in as many seasons as the Palm Bay, Fla., native moves to shortstop in 2009. Stidham began his Seminole career at third base in 2007 where he earned Freshman All-America accolades. In 2008, he moved to second base where he started 62 games. Stidham also made a pair of starts at shortstop a season ago with both starts coming in the Super Regional against Wichita State.

* Stuart Tapley was given the starting nod at third base last year and will once again man the left corner of the infield for the Seminoles in 2009. Tapley will open the season on the heels of a 34-game errorless streak.

* The outfield once again has considerable depth with the return of Tyler Holt, Mike McGee, Ohmed Danesh and Ruairi O'Connor who combined for 139 starts a season ago. Holt started all 68 games in center as a freshman and was one of only two Seminoles to start every game in 2008. The four outfielders combined for just eight errors on the year including one each by McGee and O'Connor.

* With the departure of consensus National Player of the Year Buster Posey to the Major League Baseball draft, the Seminole catching duties will be up for grabs in 2009. Three student-athletes will vie for the starting job including sophomore Parker Brunelle (Snellville, GA), red shirt freshman Matt Kane (Lake Worth, FL) and junior college transfer Rafael Lopez (Wellington, FL). Brunelle carries the most experience of the three starting five games behind the plate a season ago.

MARTIN ON THE DEFENSE: "We're asking a lot out of Jason Stidham playing his third position in three years. We have a lot of confidence in him as our shortstop. Tommy Oravetz will get the nod at second and will be backed up by freshman Sherman Johnson. Stephen Cardullo played well thus far at first, but we're looking for offensive contributions down there also. Stuart Tapley is much improved as our third basemen and the catching position, which for the last two years was as strong as it ever was at Florida State, will be a battle between Parker (Brunelle), (Rafael) Lopez and Matt Kane. The outfield is filled with a great deal of depth providing a lot of options this year."

PITCHING
* Florida State returns three pitchers who started at least six games a season ago. Bo O'Dell posted the lowest ERA of 3.60 among those returning starters. Mike McGee and Geoff Parker each started nine games as a freshman in 2008 and will look to increase those numbers in their second season.

* The Seminoles will look to replace Matt Fairel, Ryan Strauss and Elih Villanueva, three starters from last year's squad that played an integral role in helping FSU advance to the College World Series. The trio accounted for 53.7% of the team's victories in 2008 combining to go 29-7 with a 4.01 ERA in 298.1 innings of work. They posted 263 strikeouts in 43 starts, while Strauss and Villanueva each pitched a complete game.

* Jimmy Marshall will be the senior leader of a very young Florida State bullpen in 2009. Marshall went 6-2 with two saves and a 3.69 ERA in 38 appearances a season ago. He ranks 10th all-time at Florida State with 78 career relief appearances.

* Sophomore John Gast is headed to the starting rotation in 2009 after making 14 appearances out of the Seminole bullpen as a freshman. The southpaw missed the first half of the 2008 season rehabbing from off-season Tommy John surgery. He made his collegiate debut on April 16 against North Florida. Gast went 0-1 with a 2.70 ERA in 13.1 innings of work last year.

MARTIN ON THE PITCHING: "Losing (Matt) Fairel when we did was a big blow, no doubt. Going into late August, we pictured our rotation to be Fairel, Gast and (Geoff) Parker. Then you lose Fairel (to the draft), so that opens up an opportunity for somebody else. Then you lose Kyle Long at the break; we had plans for him. So now you just give guys like Sean Gilmartin, Hunter Scantling, Austin Wood and Brian Busch more opportunities that maybe they wouldn't have gotten had a Matt Fairel or a Kyle Long been on staff. With those loses, we will also look at Mike McGee to fill a spot in our rotation. It opens up opportunities for other guys and I'm just anxious to see how they react."

MARTIN ON HIS 30TH SEASON AS FLORIDA STATE HEAD COACH: "It's so satisfying because everyday I am excited to come to work. The day that I enter into a season not excited it will be my last. And at the present time I'm excited and I have no intentions of it being my last. There are a lot of challenges for this team this year and I'm anxious to see how this club will respond."

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