GAINESVILLE, Fla. – Mike Martin didn’t have an answer.
Florida State’s head coach had just seen Drew Carlton deliver one of the all-time great pitching performances in program history in FSU’s 3-0 victory over Florida in Game 1 of the NCAA Gainesville Super Regional. And, midway through Martin’s postgame press conference, a reporter asked the obvious question.
When is the last time any Seminole pitched better than that?
“That’s a great question,” Martin said.
He then paused a moment, perhaps to scan the memories of his 37 years in the FSU dugout.
“That’s a heck of a question,” Martin said. “Because I can’t say I remember this. Or I remember that. The guy pitched his heart out.”
He also pitched Florida State to within one victory of an appearance in the College World Series.
Facing the No. 1 team in the nation in front of 5,768 fans, Carlton, a sophomore from Lakeland, threw nine innings. He allowed only two hits, surrendered no walks and only once reached so much as a three-ball count.
He retired the last 19 batters he faced while not allowing a single Gator to reach as far as second base.
He was, as Florida coach Kevin O’Sullivan so plainly stated afterward, “the story of the game.”
And maybe the story of the season.
The Seminoles still have work to do, as Martin insisted several times on Saturday night.
Florida will throw ace Logan Shore (11-0, 2.44 ERA), just selected in the second round of the MLB draft earlier this week, on Sunday.
And if there’s a Game 3 on Monday, UF will send yet another future pro – No. 6 overall pick A.J. Puk (2-3, 3.21) – the mound for that one.
So, as well as the Seminoles played here Saturday, they might have to be even better going forward.
“Having seen this club (four) times this year, we know how good they are,” Martin said. “We know their pitchers are as good as any – if not the best – in the country.”
Maybe so, but Carlton was the best pitcher here tonight.
Mixing a low-90s fastball with a slider and a change-up, Carlton outdueled Florida’s Alex Faedo – a sophomore projected as a high pick in next year’s draft – to give FSU its first win to open a Super Regional since 2012.
And Carlton’s ability to pound the strike zone and coax ground balls allowed him to work ahead and keep his pitch count low.
He finished with 115 pitches thrown to 28 batters, just one over the minimum.
“When we got to the ninth, it was more or less Drew looking at us and saying, ‘I’d like to keep the ball in my hand,’” Martin said. “And we were not going to argue with him.”
Florida might have wished that they had.
The Gators’ top five hitters combined to go 0 for 16 at the plate, with sluggers Peter Alonso and JJ Schwarz each finishing 0 for 3.
And Carlton’s one brief flirtation with trouble ended in emphatic fashion, too. Danny Reyes, UF’s No. 9 hitter, singled with one out in the fourth to turn over the lineup, but leadoff hitter Dalton Guthrie promptly grounded the next pitch into a 5-4-3 double-play and the inning was over.
It was the last time any Gator reached base.
“From the first inning on, everything felt great,” Carlton said. “But every inning (I) was coming back and looking back at the last inning and feeding off that and trying to add that to the next inning.”
After the game, the Gators had about as many answers for Carlton’s performance as they did during it.
“I don’t know,” catcher Mike Rivera said. “He just pitched good.”
“Drew Carlton just threw great,” O’Sullivan said. “It’s just that simple.”
And, as a result, the Seminoles are as close to Omaha as they have been in four years.
“Just very pleased with the way that Drew pitched,” Martin said. “Obviously the key to the ballgame. Don’t know when I’ve ever seen him pitch better.”
Him or anyone else.