June 3, 2017 - by
Hometown Hero Holton Dominates Knights, Extends Baseball’s Season

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – There are some pitchers, Mike Martin was saying here Saturday afternoon, who know when their day is done.

Who make it through five, six or seven innings before their eyes start wandering toward the bullpen in search of a reliever to take the reins. Tyler Holton is not one of those pitchers. “Tyler is the way you want every pitcher to be,” Martin said. “He wants responsibility. He craves to compete.”

 

Holton on Saturday was largely responsible for keeping Florida State’s season alive. With the Seminoles facing the first of as many as four straight elimination games, the sophomore let his teammates breathe easy by striking out 13 and allowing just six hits – all singles – over nine innings on the way to a 6-1 victory over Central Florida.

It was Holton’s second complete game in his last four outings. And he pitched eight innings in the other two.

As a result, the top-seeded Seminoles are still in the mix at the NCAA Tallahassee Regional. They’ll play either No. 3-seed Auburn or No. 4 Tennessee Tech Sunday at 1 p.m. UCF is eliminated.

“I felt good,” Holton said in the understatement of the day. “I definitely felt in control of all three of my pitches, and whenever I have that going and my defense is making plays behind me, it’s fun to pitch.”

It’s certainly no fun for hitters.

Ever since the calendar flipped to May, Holton, a former standout at Tallahassee’s Lincoln High, has been nothing short of dominant.

In those five starts, he’s averaged nearly eight innings pitched, 10.6 strikeouts, 4.4 hits and only 0.80 earned runs allowed.

Along the way, Holton became FSU’s first 10-game winner since Scott Sitz and Brandon Leibrandt (2012), and he racked up more total strikeouts – 132 – in a single season than any Seminole since Mike Ziegler had 149 in 2000.

But the history lesson can wait for another day.

More pressing is what Holton did to the Knights on Saturday.

Effortlessly blending a fastball, curveball and changeup, the 6-2, 200-pound lefty made sure the Knights never gave the Seminoles much reason to sweat.

Of UCF’s four runners to reach scoring position, two got there either via a passed ball or a fielding error.

And when the Knights appeared to put a small dent in Holton’s armor late in the game, he responded with an inning-ending strikeout in the seventh and later coaxed a pair of outs after back-to-back base hits in the eighth.

“He just kept doing what he was going to do,” UCF coach Greg Lovelady said. “You’ve just got to commend him for being able to execute. That changeup is a tough pitch to pick up. And you’ve got to find a way to make him adjust off of it.”

Through eight innings, Holton had thrown well over 100 pitches and Martin had summoned two relievers to the bullpen. Just in case.

But Holton isn’t the type of pitcher to voluntarily hand over the ball.

So with his team needing three more outs to extend its season, he had only one thought. And even that came with his teammates in mind:

“’You’ve got to let me go,’” Holton recalled. “’You’ve got to save the bullpen.’”

Holton then set the Knights down in order in the bottom of the ninth, assuring that 1) the Seminoles will have at least one game to play on Sunday and 2) they’ll have a fresh set of relievers to support their starters.

He walked off the field to chants of “Ty-ler Hol-ton!” from his hometown crowd, then came out of the dugout for a rare pitcher’s curtain call.

“I didn’t know that they did that,” Holton said with a smile. “I thought it was just home runs. But it was pretty cool.”

A few moments later, in his postgame press conference, Martin compared Holton’s effort to a basketball player who wants to take the last shot with the clock winding down. Or a quarterback who wants to make the crucial throw on fourth down.

It sounds obvious, but not every athlete has that personality. Holton, however, wanted the ball in his hands.

And in the biggest moment of the season, he delivered.

“You just got an outing from a young man that, No. 1, loves to compete,” Martin said. “And he’s always in control of himself and his emotions.

“It’s fun to literally watch him pitch.”

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