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If FSU wants to return to the regionals for an NCAA-record 28th straight year, it will have to do it with youth.
BY CHRIS MILTON
Miami Herald

TALLAHASSEE - Florida State baseball coach Mike Martin will enter his 26th season on the bench today facing an unfamiliar challenge.

With more than 70 percent of his roster comprised of freshmen and sophomores, FSU's longtime skipper will have to learn to win with youth.

''We're going to have to be patient,'' Martin said.  "Only experience can help this team now. We have to get out there and play.''

The Seminoles will get that opportunity this weekend when they play host to Charleston Southern in a three-game series that kicks off a 12-game homestand to start the season.

Martin has three true freshmen and a sophomore transfer penciled into his starting lineup. Transfers Michael Hyde and Barret Browning will get the first cracks at rotation spots behind Mark Sauls, who will start the opener today.

How youth responds in competition will go a long way in determining whether FSU -- the defending Atlantic Coast Conference champion -- can return to regional play for an NCAA-record 28th consecutive season.

''Our expectations are the same every year -- to go to Omaha and win a national championship,'' Martin said. ``We are not going to lower those.  If we ever lower those, it's time for me to go to the golf course.''

Helping Martin provide guidance will be senior catcher Aaron Cheesman, one of two Seminoles who started all 68 games last season.  heesman's .347 average and 18 doubles were good for second on the team behind Eddy Martinez-Esteve (who was drafted after last season), but his clubhouse contributions have taken on an immeasurable value.

''The leadership role will be intensified this year with all these younger guys we have,'' Cheesman said.  "There always seems to be that guy around here that stands out in the locker room and does the little things that you don't see . . . to act as a big brother, to help with school work and problems.''

Cheesman got a taste of that role in 2004, when a loss in the Super Regionals at Arkansas ended a 45-23 season. But after Martinez-Esteve (Giants) and Stephen Drew (Diamondbacks) signed professional contracts and left school early, those responsibilities fell on his shoulders.

Cheesman and relief pitcher Kevin Lynch are the only two players on the roster who have been with the Seminoles for four seasons.

''He's a steady influence on everyone and we look to him in so many different ways,'' Martin said of Cheesman.

First baseman Ryne Malone and left fielder Gibbs Chapman appear to be the best candidates to help Cheesman with producing runs. Shane Robinson, who came on down the stretch last season to pick up MVP honors at the ACC Tournament, will take the leadoff spot.

Tony Thomas, Jr., gets the first crack at second, and Tallahassee natives Bryan Henry and Nick Francis make up the left side of the infield.

''At this point, I am confident in where I have everyone,'' Martin said.  "It's just time for them to go out and perform.''
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