The Florida State baseball team entered Gainesville on Saturday heavy underdogs to a Florida team that is the top seed in this year's NCAA Tournament, winners of five straight over the Seminoles, and one of the most talent-ridden teams in the nation. However, none of that mattered once the super regional began and FSU played like a team that had nothing to lose, riding an unbelievable outing from sophomore pitcher Drew Carlton to win game one 3-0 and open up a 1-0 lead in the best-of-three series with a trip to the College World Series on the line. Here's what went well and not so well in tonight's victory:
1. As impressive a performance as it was for the Seminoles across the board, the win likely would not have been had it not been for the herculean effort from Florida State starting pitcher Drew Carlton. Carlton notched a complete-game shutout, the first for FSU since March 6th of 2015, against the No. 1 overall seed in the NCAA Tournament. However, even saying that doesn't do justice to what Carlton accomplished. He allowed just two hits, walked none, never allowed a baserunner to reach second, and finished the game by retiring the final 19 batters of a Florida lineup chock full of future MLB talent. There's little denying that Carlton saved the best performance of his two-year career at Florida State for the biggest stage, staking his team to a 1-0 advantage in the best of three series.
2. UF entered this weekend's super regional the far superior defensive team. After all, Florida's .982 team fielding percentage is significantly better than Florida State's .968 fielding percentage. However, that did not seem the case in Saturday's game. FSU had a flawless defensive performance, committing no errors even while shortstop Taylor Walls was tested with tough grounders throughout the game, while Florida had an error in the fourth inning which directly led to the Seminoles' third run of the ballgame. The defensive highlight of the game was undeniably FSU center fielder Ben DeLuzio's full-extension diving catch to rob JJ Schwarz of extra bases in the seventh inning which will likely land him in the Sportscenter Top 10 once again this year.
3. Was it an overwhelming offensive performance for the 'Noles? No. However, the FSU bats remained very receptive to what the UF pitchers were giving them throughout Saturday's win. Early on, Florida State was unafraid to change its usual plate disciplined ways and swing early in counts. However, when the Gator pitchers, particularly starter Alex Faedo and reliever Dane Dunning, lost the strike zone, FSU was happy to take the walks they were being offered, earning five free passes and two HBPs in all. Although it was not a particularly special performance from the Florida State offense, a few clutch at-bats were all that the 'Noles needed on a night with such a special pitching performance.
1. Something happened on Saturday night that I was not sure I would ever see happen. A team (Florida State) that finished the game 0-9 with runners in scoring position, won. FSU's woes with runners on base which were a common occurrence throughout the three games against Florida this year carried into the first game of this super regional but did not mark the difference in the final score thanks to some timely plate discipline, an RBI double with a runner on first, and taking advantage of a Florida error. It was far from pretty for the 'Noles at the plate but it got the job done in game one.
2. Florida's starting pitcher, Alex Faedo, was far from perfect on Saturday. He lasted only four innings, his shortest outing of the season, and allowed two runs on three hits, three walks, and a hit-by-pitch. That being said, he did seem to overpower FSU in one aspect. Faedo, a future high draft pick, racked up seven strikeouts over his 4+ innings of work including five over his first two innings. He was touching 94 MPH with his fastball and the Seminoles seemed completely unable to catch up, looking overpowered any time he went to it. In all, FSU finished the game with 11 strikeouts, a dismally high number even considering the amount of talent on this UF pitching staff. If the 'Noles want to take one of these last two games and advance to Omaha, they will likely need to reduce the strikeouts and hit more balls into play.
3. Although the win does put Florida State one win away from Omaha, the Seminoles will still need to take one of the next two from an immensely talented UF squad which could prove to be a very daunting task. That being said, Florida State head coach Mike Martin was very aware of this fact in Saturday's post-game press conference, mentioning multiple times that there was still a lot of work left to do and that it would be difficult to win one more against the top-seeded Gators.
The win snaps FSU's five-game losing streak to Florida dating back to last year's super regional in Gainesville and was Florida State's first shutout at UF since 1995. The Seminoles will look to punch their ticket to Omaha on Sunday when FSU freshman Tyler Holton (3-3, 2.92 ERA) goes up against Florida's Logan Shore (11-0, 2.44 ERA), the 47th overall selection in this weekend's MLB Draft. First pitch is currently scheduled for 6 PM.