After struggling as a freshman, FSU’s Taylor Walls enjoys breakout year

There already was pressure on Taylor Walls entering his freshmen season in 2015.

Florida State baseball coach Mike Martin had selected Walls to start at shortstop, and he was expected to hit for average and use his speed to steal a few bases. Walls, already a perfectionist, had a difficult adjustment to college baseball.

“I’ve had to tell him before, ‘Stop being mean to my shortstop,’ ” Martin said with a laugh.

Walls hit .220 with four doubles and 43 runs scored a year ago while also making 20 errors. He went into his sophomore season with the goal of not just improving at the plate and in the field but also relaxing his mind-set.

It’s an approach that has served Walls well. Entering this weekend’s Super Regional at Florida, Walls is hitting .367 and leads the team with 71 runs scored. FSU’s leadoff hitter also has six home runs, 19 doubles and 45 RBIs, while cutting his errors to 12.

Baseball America’s staff noted that Walls “epitomized the Seminoles’ patient, grind-it-out offensive approach, putting up a stunning .508 on-base percentage in ACC play.” It was also a rare accomplishment: Walls is just the third FSU shortstop to be named a first-team All-American, joining Dick Howser (1957 and ’58) and Stephen Cardullo (2009).

“I was honored and surprised a little bit,” Walls said. “But I was happy. It wasn’t really something that had ever crossed my mind.”

Walls has set the table for a lineup that has been productive in the postseason. FSU routed its three opponents in the Tallahassee Regional by a combined 43-14, and Walls led the way by going 7-for-13 with four runs and four RBIs.

FSU (40-20) is now looking for its first College World Series trip since 2012. But the Seminoles face a difficult road when they play at Florida (50-13) in a best-of-three series that begins at 6 p.m. Saturday (ESPN2). The Gators swept FSU 6-0, 3-2 and 8-2 in three midweek games, so neither team has faced the other’s weekend rotation.

The Seminoles’ rotation is improving, led by sophomore ace right-hander Drew Carlton (7-3, 4.36 ERA). He will start today, with freshman left-hander Tyler Holton (3-3, 2.92 ERA) pitching on Sunday and freshman right-hander Cole Sands (6-6, 4.21 ERA) taking the mound in a potential winner-take-all Game 3.

Florida coach Kevin O’Sullivan has not announced a rotation but the Gators’ staff has been dominant no matter who is on the mound. Junior left-hander A.J. Puk (2-3, 3.21 ERA), junior right-hander Logan Shore (11-0, 2.44 ERA) and sophomore right-hander Alex Faedo (13-1, 3.19 ERA) make up what might be the best rotation in college baseball.

“We know we have a huge challenge ahead of us,” Martin said.

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