TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — Tyler Holton grew up cheering for Florida State and has seen super regional games at Dick Howser Stadium as a fan. On Saturday, the Tallahassee native takes the mound with a chance to help the Seminoles get back to the College World Series.
The sophomore right-hander has been the Seminoles most dominant pitcher this season. Going into this weekend’s super regional against Sam Houston State, which begins on Saturday, Holton is 10-2 with a 2.22 ERA. He has won his past five starts and has a 0.92 ERA with 53 strikeouts and only six walks.
“He wants responsibility. He craves to compete,” Florida State coach Mike Martin said of Holton. “There are some pitchers that will get to the seventh and kind of look out of the corner of their eyes of who is warming up. ‘I’ve done my job; I’ve gotten us here.’ That is not what athleticism is about. He wants to control the outcome.”
Holton began last season in the bullpen before working his way into the starting rotation toward the end of the year. In last year’s ACC Tournament semifinal win over Miami, Holton allowed only two runs in seven innings along with nine strikeouts.
This season he has entrenched in the rotation, usually starting the middle game of weekend series. Holton is Florida State’s first 10-game winner in four years and is ranked in the top 10 nationally in four categories — walks, hits per innings pitched (fifth, 0.84); strikeouts (sixth, 132); hits allowed per nine innings (eighth, 5.38) and wins (10th).
Besides being a first-team All-ACC selection, Holton is the first pitcher since NC State’s Mike Rogers in 2004 to be named the conference’s Pitcher of the Week five times in one season.
Holton by no means is a power pitcher — his fastball generally goes 87-89 mph — but he has had very good control. He mainly relies on a fastball-changeup mix, but he has expanded his repertoire to include a curveball. Holton said he didn’t start throwing a curve until high school, but that it has been more effective this season.
Holton’s best pitch though remains the changeup. UCF coach Brian Lovelady said last week after the Knights lost 6-1 in the Tallahassee Regional that it is a tough pitch to pick up and that it often results in hitters getting weak contact.
“It’s a typical simple circle changeup. It’s not out of the ordinary but it helps to throw it whenever you want,” he said.
Holton has been just as effective at the plate. He is hitting .268 with two home runs and nine RBIs.
In a rare change, it will be up to Holton to establish momentum as he will start the first game. The Seminoles (43-21), who are trying to back the CWS for the first time since 2012, have won 10 of their last 11 games in large part due to their starting pitching. During last week’s regional, the rotation allowed just six earned runs in 36 1/3 innings with 46 strikeouts and only six walks.
Sam Houston State (44-21), which won the Lubbock regional after beating No. 5 national seed Texas Tech twice, is one of the more unpredictable teams in college baseball because of its tendency to bunt at any time.
“We’re as confident as we have been at any point in the season. We know that we have the capability of winning and just have to get the job done,” Holton said. “We’ve had tough opponents down the stretch and this weekend is going to be no different.”