Taylor Walls, FSU look to scale College World Series heights

Taylor Walls had just wrapped up one of his best days of the season. Florida State’s shortstop had an unblemished box score: 3-for-3 with a pair of home runs, four RBI and five runs scored.

And it was part of a game that lifted the Seminoles to a Super Regional-clinching 19-0 victory over Sam Houston State. Satisfied? Far from it.

“I’m not satisfied with what I did tonight, what I’ve done the past month or what I’ve done the past season,” the junior shortstop said. “Never will be. The only thing I’ll be satisfied with is to win in Omaha.”

If Walls keeps getting on base, he could set the table for a long stay in Omaha, Neb., at the College World Series. Walls is hitting .370 (10-for-27) in the regional and Super Regional with 12 runs scored and 10 RBI, and he will look to continue his recent success at the plate when FSU (45-21) faces LSU (48-17) on Saturday at 8 p.m. in the first round of pool play at the CWS.

In Sunday’s win over Sam Houston State, Walls started the game by hitting lefty and smacked a home run to left-center field that sparked a four-run first inning. It was part of a 3-for-3 night but also one in which he walked four times.

“When he hit the ball out of the ballpark in the first inning, oppo (opposite field) on a change-up, that’s a pretty clear indication of the talent this young man possesses,” said FSU coach Mike Martin Sr., who is looking to lead the Seminoles to their first CWS title in his 16th trip to Omaha.

After the game, Bearkats coach Matt Deggs praised Walls as a future major league shortstop. Walls still has work to do in Omaha, but he was drafted Tuesday afternoon in the third round by the Tampa Bay Rays and could begin his pro career this summer if he chooses to leave FSU early.

“Where the game of baseball takes him over the course of his career, who knows, but we like his shortstop ability,” Rays director of amateur scouting Rob Metzler told MLB.com. “Good defensive ability. We think he has range. We like his bat as a switch-hitter. We’re optimistic that that sophomore season is more the player he is, and we’re excited to get him at the spot we got him.”

Walls was named a first-team All-American in 2016 by Baseball America after he hit .355 with 20 doubles, 72 runs scored and six home runs. And after spending the summer with the USA Baseball Collegiate National Team, there were high expectations for Walls’ junior season.

He struggled for the first few months this season and his batting average dipped to .224 after the NC State series on April 9. But he has begun a gradual climb and is at .276. That’s not nearly where he expects to be, but his 63 walks (third-best nationally) have contributed to an on-base percentage of .421 that is second on the team to Matt Henderson’s .441.

Walls also learned a valuable lesson after he was quickly pulled from an April 1 game against North Carolina, likely for not running hard down to first base. That prompted a short suspension in which he also missed the Sunday game against the Tar Heels.

Walls hasn’t specifically addressed the suspension. But after Sunday’s win that clinched the CWS berth, Walls remarked how draining the sport can be and how persistent players have to be.

“You have to be really mentally tough to play this game,” Walls said. “You can sit here and say that all you want but until you start going through it you don’t really understand what it can do to you … Just grinding through it. Hard work eventually pays off.”

And the Seminoles are beginning to reap those rewards, winning 12 of their last 13 games to advance to the CWS. The pitching staff has delivered consistent performances in the postseason. And FSU has produced some quality offensive outputs, averaging 6.7 runs per game in the regional and Super Regional.

That’s in part a credit to Walls, who is finding his way on base by any means.

“He does everything he can to get the inning started,” designated hitter Quincy Nieporte said.

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