The last thing Colin Holderman wanted to do was slow the momentum his Class A Columbia rotation mates had going, which included two shutouts in the past three games.
"Our guys have been lights out so far," the right-handed Mets prospect said. "Just great pitching all around, so I felt a little extra pressure to come through as well. The first few games, our guys were really shoving, really throwing well. So I definitely used it as extra motivation because I didn't want to be that guy to be the one to slow us down."
Instead, Holderman turned in one of the best pitching lines of the young season in his first professional start.
The 21-year-old dazzled in his South Atlantic League debut Monday, striking out a franchise-record 11 batters while allowing one hit without a walk in the Fireflies' 3-0 over the visiting Hickory Crawdads at Spirit Communications Park. His 11 punchouts topped the club record of 10, accomplished twice last year by Nasmil Crisbatt.
Holderman (1-0) fanned four of the first five batters he faced. Ricardo Valencia's one-out double to left field in the third inning marked the only baserunner to reach against the Illinois native, who needed 83 pitches to navigate through six innings. The 21-year-old set down the final 11 Crawdads he faced, striking out six consecutive batters at one point.
"There were a little extra nerves beforehand," Holderman said. "My last start was in college and I was on an innings limit last year, so it had been awhile, but we had a really good scouting report on these guys. They were aggressive early in the count, so I pitched backwards early in the game to ambush them. I got ahead consistently with my off-speed stuff and then used my fastball later on and my slider, which was really working tonight.
Video: Columbia's Holderman registers 11th strikeout
"Being in a pitchers' duel gets me going. I have to do my part. If the other pitcher is doing his job, then I've got to go and do it even better. It's me against him and us against them. That's the way I looked at it."
Drafted in the ninth round last year out of Heartland Community College in Bloomington, Illinois, Holderman began his professional career with 13 relief appearances at Rookie-level Kingsport. Featuring a low-90s fastball with good sink and run, he posted a 3.86 ERA while fanning 13 and walking 11 in 18 2/3 innings for the K-Mets. That came after he amassed a 1.57 ERA with 92 punchouts in 74 1/3 innings at Heartland, which earned the 6-foot-6, 215-pounder Division II All-American status.
"I have total confidence in myself," Holderman said. "I was set to go to Mississippi State and I kept that in mind when I made my pro debut. If I was good enough to do it at the [Division I] level, I could get it done here as well."
Matt Blackham allowed a hit and a walk with three strikeouts in two innings for the Fireflies. Joseph Zanghi surrendered a single and struck out two in the ninth to notch the save.
Michael Paez contributed two sacrifice flies and Dash Winningham added another as Columbia improved to 5-0. The team has yet to trail in a game this season.
Tim Tebow went 1-for-4 with a single to center.