Take a number, everyone. There’s a long line of people who want Justin Dunn to suit up in their team’s colors.
There’s not much left for Dunn to prove this season. After moving from the closer’s spot to the rotation by Boston College head coach Mike Gambino in mid-April, Dunn has put a twinkle in the eyes of scouts across Major League Baseball. The ace out of Freeport, N.Y., has impressed with a fastball that sits from 94 to 96 mph but can be dialed up to 99, to go along with sharp, mid-80s sliders and curveballs. Entering Friday, Dunn was 3-1 with a 1.35 ERA—sixth-best in the NCAA—with 55 strikeouts to 15 walks in 16 appearances (six starts).
But, with the 2016 Major League Baseball Draft looming next week, the ace out of Freeport, N.Y., saved his best performance for his final audition. In the opening game of the NCAA Baseball Tournament’s Oxford Regional, Dunn tossed seven innings of two-run ball to lift No. 3 seed BC (32-20) over No. 2 seed Tulane (39-20) in a 7-2 victory.
Dunn began the game with incredible efficiency, throwing a mere 32 pitches in three innings with five strikeouts. Even when he got into a jam in the fourth inning with a walk by Grant Witherspoon and a single by Jeremy Montalbano, Dunn expertly used that nasty slider to strike out Hunter Williams and induce a fielder’s choice from Lex Kaplan.
After a quick fifth that included another strikeout, Dunn got into trouble in the sixth. He allowed back-to-back singles to Stephen Alemais and Jake Rogers, but came back to get the 3-4 hitters. With two runners on and two out, however, Williams got his revenge. Logan Hoggarth dropped a deep fly ball to left field, allowing two runs to score and Williams to end up with a triple.
But from then on, Dunn would be lights out. He was taken out after 108 pitches in the seventh after giving up only four hits and one walk with a career-high 11 strikeouts.
On the offensive end, the Eagles beat up the ace of the Green Wave, Emerson Gibbs. The catalyst? A familiar face.
In his first appearance in the lineup since he broke his hand on April 10, Donovan Casey returned with a flourish. Casey lined the first pitch he saw into left field for a double a mere six inches from leaving Swayze Field, which was followed by a walk from Hoggarth. After Mitch Bigras bunted the two into scoring position, Jake Palomaki grounded out to second to bring in the game’s first run. Moments later, Gibbs sent a pitch to the backstop to give BC an early 2-0 lead.
The top of the order struck for the Eagles in the sixth. A questionable call in right field allowed Palomaki to lead off the inning on base—the first base umpire deemed that Kaplan had dropped the ball, yet replays clearly showed the bobble coming on the transfer to the throwing hand of the Green Wave right fielder, which should result in an out. Nevertheless, the Eagles took advantage. Strem followed with a single, bringing up catcher Nick Sciortino. The “heart and soul of the Eagles,” according to ESPN3 announcers Richard Cross and David Dellucci, came through with a big two-run single.
In the late innings, the Eagles tacked on some insurance on Tulane’s bullpen. In the eighth, Bigras led off the inning with a double, advancing to third on a balk before coming home on a groundout by Strem. The following inning, the Eagles tacked on a couple more. Singles by Johnny Adams and Hoggarth, as well as a hit by pitch to Casey, loaded the bases for the scrappy leadoff man Palomaki. The on-base king of the Eagles delivered again with a two-run single.
All those extra runs gave reliever Bobby Skogsbergh some breathing room, not that he needed it. The redshirt sophomore mowed down Tulane on 16 pitches in two innings with two strikeouts to close out the game.
Yet the story, once again, is the future MLB pitcher, Dunn. His poise and composure on the mound lifted BC to its first win in its first NCAA appearance since 2009 and only the program’s second NCAA Tournament victory in the last 49 years. With the team’s victory, the Eagles move to the winner’s bracket of the Oxford Regional, where they await the victor in the evening’s Ole Miss-Utah game.
And with his personal victory, Dunn can expect an even bigger payday once Thursday rolls around.
Featured Image by Joshua McCoy / BC Athletics