SPRINGFIELD, Ill. — If there had been any lingering debate over who the Great Lakes Valley Conference Pitcher of the Year should be, it’s over now.
Riley Martin took care of that in much the same way he shut down Illinois-Springfield’s offense on Friday afternoon.
The Quincy University senior left-hander broke the program’s single-game strikeout record by mowing down 19 hitters over seven innings and eclipsed the single-season strikeout record in the process as the No. 23 Hawks opened a pivotal four-game GLVC series with a 3-2 victory over the No. 4 Prairie Stars at the UIS field.
“A lot of those strikeouts were on fastballs right by them,” Quincy coach Josh Rabe said. “Right by them. He was in complete command.”
That leaves no doubt who the ace of the league is.
“No, no, no, no,” Rabe said. “If it isn’t unanimous, there’s something wrong.”
Friday’s effort was the best in a series of incredible performances.
Martin struck out 16 batters four previous times and has struck out at least 11 batters in nine of his 10 starts this season, leading to 130 strikeouts over 10 starts and 66 innings. It moved him past Brandon DeJaynes to the top of the single-season strikeout list.
DeJaynes struck out 126 in 13 starts and two relief appearances spanning 88.1 innings in 2003 when he was named the GLVC Pitcher of the Year and the NCAA Division II National Pitcher of the Year.
Such accolades and numbers weren’t on Martin’s mind once he found his groove Friday.
Winning was all that mattered.
“It was super windy,” Martin said after the Hawks improved to 27-9 overall and 24-8 in the GLVC. “Pretty much the entire game, my breaking ball wasn’t what it normally is. So I kind of had to battle that. I knew I was having success with my fastball. Once I started seeing that I was throwing it right by them, I thought, ‘All right, I’m going to try to do something special to keep us in the game.’
“It was a close game the entire time. We had to battle. I wasn’t focused on anything other than proving we were better than them.”
Three solo home runs – one from Joe Roscetti in the second inning with Nolan Wosman and Cole Evans each hitting one in the sixth – staked Martin to a 3-1 lead. In the bottom of the sixth, he worked around a one-out single by striking out three batters.
With Martin’s pitch count rising, Rabe considered a move to the bullpen at that point.
“He came in the dugout and said, ‘Don’t even think about it,’” Rabe said. “I was like, ‘OK.’”
In the seventh, Martin allowed a one-out walk but again finished the inning by striking out three batters, the last of which came on a fastball that Prairie Stars leadoff hitter Brandon Bannon swung at and missed.
It was Martin’s 19th strikeout, breaking the single-game record of 18 set by Nick Stroud against Bellarmine in 2019. He struck out eight of the final 10 batters he faced and exited after throwing a season-high 137 pitches.
Only two of the 21 outs he recorded required help from his defense, one of those was a dribbler to the right side of the infield Martin fielded and threw to first base for the forceout.
“Let this sink in, through seven innings, we had to make two plays,” Rabe said. “Two plays.”
Had Martin’s pitch count not been so high, he might have gone back out for the eighth and further limited the number of plays the defense made.
But the defense made crucial plays when necessary.
Right-hander Jack Widhalm relieved Martin to start the eighth inning, and after allowing a lead-off single, he rolled three straight groundouts for a scoreless inning. In the ninth, left-handed closer Sam Stephens surrendered a wind-aided home run with one out.
Following a strikeout and a walk, he got Bannon to fly out to left field to end the game.
The first one out of the dugout to greet Stephens and celebrate was Martin.
“Big-time performance from Sam and Jack to keep that game where it was,” Martin said. “The feeling we had during the game and after the game was now we know. I knew and some of the guys knew but now all the guys know for a fact we can play with these guys and we’re one of the best teams in the nation as well.”