Florida will start sophomore Dane Dunning in Saturday night's elimination game against Virginia at the 2015 College World Series, and Virginia will counter with junior Brandon Waddell, the teams announced early Saturday evening via their Twitter accounts.
Virginia's announcement comes as a slight surprise: Waddell has been the Cavaliers' second starter for much of the season and postseason, behind sophomore Connor Jones, and Jones is better-rested — having not pitched since last Saturday.
By starting Waddell — the only pitcher to cool the Gators' red-hot bats in this NCAA Tournament, even through a second trip through the Florida lineup in the NCAA Tournament — Virginia is clearly hoping for a repeat of his brilliant performance earlier this week in Omaha.
Florida, on the other hand, doesn't know quite what it's going to get out of Dunning on this stage: He hasn't appeared in this NCAA Tournament as a starter, throwing only a scoreless inning of relief against Miami in Florida's CWS opener, and he didn't start in the 2014 NCAA Tournament, either, though he did throw three innings of scoreless relief against North Carolina in Florida's season-ending 5-2 loss last May.
And Dunning's last appearance as a starter for Florida wasn't encouraging: He started against Arkansas in the Gators' first game of the SEC Tournament, and lasted just 1.1 innings, giving up three earned runs on two hits, three walks, and a hit batsman.
Iffy performances like that one, along with the emergence of freshman Alex Faedo, relegated Dunning to the back of Florida's rotation near midseason, and he didn't make a start in a weekend series game after allowing four earned runs in 1.1 innings on two hits, two walks, three hit batters, and two wild pitches against Kentucky on April 25 — a game that produced not only Florida's last series loss of the season, but its last loss on a Saturday all year.
Since then, with A.J. Puk handling the lion's share their Saturday starts, the Gators are a perfect 7-0 on Saturdays, with wins over College World Series participants Vanderbilt, LSU, and Miami among those triumphs.
But if Puk, the only other logical candidate to get the ball this Saturday, were to start, Florida would have neither Puk nor ace Logan Shore available until a potential third game of the CWS championship series: Shore would be throwing on three days' rest in a Tuesday Game 2, and Puk would be doing so in a Wednesday Game 3. Neither player has thrown on three days' rest in his Florida career, and throwing on three days' rest, for young pitchers, is considered inadvisable at best — so much so, in fact, that Florida coach Kevin O'Sullivan would be pilloried for making such a decision.
Throwing Dunning on Saturday gives Florida a potential rotation of Puk on seven days' rest in Game 1, Faedo on six days' rest in Game 2, and Shore on four days' rest in Game 3 — both a much stronger rotation, especially to pit against defending national champion Vanderbilt, and one that doesn't tax the Gators pitchers beyond what should be reasonably expected of them.
And so O'Sullivan and Florida are rolling the dice in this one, hoping that Dunning — a sophomore with stuff as occasionally dazzling (54 Ks in 55.1 innings, and a tidy .212 batting average allowed) as his control can be occasionally dismaying (nine wild pitches, leading Florida, and another eight hit batters) — can pair with a strong bullpen and a red-hot offense to pull the Gators into next week.
Today, it would help if Florida got a great Dane Dunning.