GAINESVILLE, Fla. – From his vantage point in the dugout, the signs appeared early for Gators head coach Kevin O'Sullivan on Thursday night.
Gators junior right-hander Alex Faedo was in command. He was throwing inside darts with his fastball to South Carolina's right-handed hitters. Faedo mixed in some effective change-ups to left-handed batters, and his slider, one of the best in the country, was dancing on the outside edge of the plate.
Freshman Keenan Bell, also in the dugout serving as Florida's designated hitter, saw the same.
"Faedo was electric,'' Bell said. "Fun to watch."
In front of a horde of professional scouts, Faedo turned in perhaps the finest performance of his college career, tossing 8 2/3 shutout innings in a 1-0 victory over the Gamecocks. The game featured two of the best starters in the Southeastern Conference in Faedo and South Carolina ace Clarke Schmidt.
Both lived up to their reputation, but Faedo was too good to be denied.
"His performance kind of speaks for itself,'' O'Sullivan said. "He was outstanding and he had to be. He pitched around a couple of situations when he needed to, and he needed to be that way because Clarke was that good. We knew going in this was going to be a low-scoring game."
The pitching matchup live on the SEC Network lived up to the hype before Schmidt was forced to leave the game in the sixth due to right forearm stiffness. Schmidt allowed four hits and one run in 5 1/3 innings.
Meanwhile, Faedo continued to mow down Gamecocks after Schmidt's exit. The early back-and-forth against Schmidt helped Faedo focus and deliver exactly what the Gators needed in the first game of a three-game series.
ALEX FAEDO— NCAA Baseball (@NCAACWS) April 21, 2017
Faedo shines in Florida's 1-0 victory over South Carolina!
LINE: 8.2 IP, 3 H, 0 R, 4 BB, 9 SO pic.twitter.com/7aNApOZxtK
"He's ultra-competitive,'' Florida shortstop Dalton Guthrie said. "I don't think it was the scouts [that pumped him up]. I think it's just going up against a guy like Schmidt. He's really good. For him to do what he did tonight, rise to the occasion, that's what you need from your ace and that's why he's one of the best.
"He is just so competitive that he's going to get up and he does not want to get embarrassed."
There was nothing for Faedo to be embarrassed about in his career-high 125-pitch outing. He allowed only three hits, struck out nine and walked four as the Gators won by shutout for the fourth time in Faedo's 10 starts this season.
The Gamecocks had just one runner reach third base and Faedo stranded Madison Stokes there in the fifth after Stokes led off with a double. Faedo's most demonstrative moment came in the eighth when catcher Mark Kolosvary threw out Carlos Cortes trying to steal second to end the inning.
Faedo's dominant outing came on the heels of a pair of subpar starts based on the standard he has established in his three seasons. In his previous two starts, Faedo allowed 17 hits and 12 runs (seven earned) over 11 2/3 innings in turns against Tennessee and Vanderbilt. Faedo's 5.40 ERA over those two outings is more than three runs higher his season ERA, which is now 2.18 after Thursday's victory.
"Facing Schmidt, I knew it was going to be a close game,'' Faedo said. "Every run counts. He kept me in a good groove, going back and forth with quick zeros, quick zeros."
Faedo didn't get much help offensively, but he didn't need it. The Gators finally broke through in the fifth with two outs. Christian Hicks doubled off the left-field wall and scored the game's only run on Bell's RBI single up the middle.
Alex Faedo tonight:— Gators Baseball (@GatorsBB) April 21, 2017
8.2 IP (ties career high), 3 H, 0 R, 9 K
Straight from the ace. pic.twitter.com/X5I4T2JUDb
The run stood as the Gators won for the eighth time in 11 games and moved into sole possession of second place (9-7) in the SEC East, one game ahead of the Gamecocks (8-8).
"It was just a heck of a ballgame,'' O'Sullivan said of the brisk affair played in 2 hours, 30 minutes. "People get frustrated with the offense, but the pitching is so good in this league. It just seems like every Friday night you are facing guys who are going to be potential big leaguers."
Faedo nearly pitched the first nine-inning shutout of his career, but he walked Alex Destino with two outs in the ninth and O'Sullivan opted to bring in closer Michael Byrne, who retired Stokes for the final out.
O'Sullivan visited the mound after Faedo opened Destino's at-bat by throwing back-to-back balls. He returned to take the ball from Faedo two balls later and one more out to go.
"I thought I still had a shot [to finish] because the righty was up,'' Faedo said. "I wasn't mad at Sully or any of that. I was just mad at myself for not getting Destino out at the end."
After Byrne recorded his seventh save, Faedo made plans for a late dinner after his sixth win in seven decisions was secure.
Whatever he ate was certain to taste good.
"He did his job tonight and he did a little more,'' Guthrie said.