Herculean Faedo Propels Florida To Finals

College World Series

OMAHA — Not even a second look in a week can make Florida’s Alex Faedo appear very hittable, at least if TCU is the team on the receiving end.

Faedo made a statement against the Horned Frogs last weekend by putting together an outstanding performance, striking out 11, walking two and allowing two hits in seven shutout innings. That appeared to be as good as it gets. But Faedo took his game to yet another level Saturday night by shutting down these same Frogs on the way to a 3-0 victory that vaulted the Gators to the CWS Finals for the third time in school history. With the win, the Gators will face SEC foe LSU in a best-of-three series.

“He has superior confidence. I think the players behind him, they play better defense behind him than maybe anyone else other than Brady Singer,” Florida coach Kevin O’Sullivan said. “He just exudes aggressiveness and confidence, and our team just has the utmost respect for him.

“Like I said, I don’t want to sound too cliché-ish, but he’s an even better kid. He’s taken some younger players under his wing without any direction from me. And the team pulls behind him. The Tigers got a pretty special pick at 18.”

Given what we saw earlier in the day between LSU and Oregon State, one had to wonder if the Horned Frogs would have more success against Faedo than the last time out. Oregon State starting pitcher Bryce Fehmel mowed down LSU’s potent bats last weekend. But this go-round? Fehmel allowed four runs on four hits and lasted just 2.1 innings.

That trend didn’t continue into the evening as Faedo made it abundantly clear from the get-go that he was clicking on all cylinders. The junior righty had a quiet first inning, where he worked around a single and punched out TCU two-hole hitter Zach Humphreys on a 92 mph fastball.

Florida will play for a national title for the third time in school history. (Eric Sorenson)

Faedo didn’t have much trouble at all with the Frogs throughout the night, but did need to navigate around some clutter in the third. Faedo quickly punched out Ryan Merrill and Elliott Barzilli on an 85 mph slider and 94 mph fastball, respectively, but walked two straight batters to get TCU fans into the game. Faedo, though, struck out nine-hole hitter Nolan Brown to escape potential trouble.

Besides a lone walk to leadoff the fourth inning, Faedo was terrific in the middle innings. He went 1-2-3 in the third, fifth and sixth innings, accumulating three strikeouts in those frames.

Faedo’s final challenge came in the seventh when TCU had a pair of runners on base with two outs. However, Faedo struck out TCU’s Josh Watson on a beautiful 86 mph slider.

That was Faedo’s and TCU’s night in a nutshell, as the righty struck out 11, walked four and allowed three hits in 7.1 shutout innings.

“He’s just an all-around outstanding pitcher. We’ve got him on two consecutive days when he’s been really good,” TCU’s Connor Wanhanen said. “But at the plate, I think he does a great job of mixing up sliders in fastball counts and moving it on both sides of the plate as well, not getting predictable at all.

“We weren’t able to see any patterns,” he continued. “But, I mean, it just comes down to he made pitches when he needed to and we weren’t able to string enough quality at bats together.”

While it would be easy to get down on TCU’s offense for their performances against Faedo over the past week, they can join the club of teams who have struggled against him in the postseason. He’s been an absolute beast throughout this NCAA tournament run. Overall, Faedo has started four postseason games, and in those four starts, he’s totaled 25.1 innings, while striking out 41, walking nine and allowing a run on 13 hits. He also was great in a relief appearance against Wake Forest.

Faedo has been on an incredible run, one that likely will propel him to Most Outstanding Player honors here in Omaha if the Gators go on to win the program’s first national title.

“Alex Faedo, again, was just really, really tough on us,” TCU coach Jim Schlossnagle said. “I thought our at bats were significantly better today than they were the last time we faced him. But the chances we did get, he made pitches. We hit some balls hard, but the balls we hit hard seemed to be right at someone. But that doesn’t take away from how outstanding he was, and I’m really proud of our team.”

After undergoing a heavy workload over the past week, one would think that Faedo likely won’t start any of the CWS Finals games against LSU. And while O’Sullivan seemed to rule him out for a start, he didn’t rule out some other opportunities. But should his career in Omaha end tonight, he’ll go down in history as one of the best to grace this tournament.

The tale of the tape for Faedo? He’s tallied a 1.04 ERA in 26 innings pitched at the CWS, while being one of just five pitchers in the last 30 years to record 10 or more strikeouts in two games. The last to do so? Former UCLA starting pitcher Trevor Bauer, who by the way, pitched against TCU in the 2010 CWS. Oh yeah, the righty also captured the single-season strikeout record for the Gators with his performance against the Frogs.

“It’s just that Alex Faedo got in the way for us,” Schlossnagle said. “In 2010, our first time here, the exact same thing happened and it was Trevor Bauer and Gerrit Cole. Now, we watch those guys pitch in the big leagues. I took my daughter to the World Series [last year] and Trevor Bauer is pitching. I’m sure there’s a day I go to pay a pretty penny to watch him [Faedo] play in the big leagues. It’s part of it, and it’s baseball. And like I said before, it’s what makes it great and what makes it miserable.”

TCU’s magical run of four-straight trips to college baseball’s mecca is over, but the Gators have a chance to make some history as a program. Florida has reached the CWS Finals twice, losing to Texas in 2005 and South Carolina in 2011, while now facing a very familiar foe in LSU, a team the Gators took two of three from in Gainesville, Fla., earlier this season.

Alex Faedo pitched himself into CWS history with another strong performance. (Eric Sorenson)

“I think they’ve been playing as good as anyone in the country at this point,” O’Sullivan said. “Offensively, they’ve been clicking. So, they’re just playing really good. We played them enough. I’ve seen them play and I think they won something like 25 out of 28 games or something like that. So we certainly know we’ll have our hands full.”

What a difference a year makes for Florida. A year ago, the Gators came to Omaha with certain national title aspirations. But this team went 0-2 with losses to Coastal Carolina and Texas Tech. Now, thanks to Faedo and his Herculean performances, the Gators are two wins away, again, from taking the trophy back to the swamp.

Faedo set the stage for what should be a dandy all-SEC showdown.

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