OXFORD, Miss. — Tulane baseball coach David Pierce had a two-word answer Thursday when asked if Boston College pitcher Justin Dunn reminded him of anyone in particular.
“Doc Gooden,” he said.
A little exaggeration is understandable when assessing Dunn’s impact since he moved into the Eagles’ weekend rotation in early April. Through six starts, he has allowed five earned runs, capping it off with a complete-game, nine-strikeout performance in an 8-3 victory at Georgia Tech on May 19.
With a 1.35 ERA and a fastball clocked at 96 mph, Dunn (3-1), a junior right-hander, has rocketed into a projected first-round pick in next week’s major league draft, according to Baseball America.
The Green Wave will try to knock him down a peg Friday afternoon at Swayze Stadium when second-seeded Tulane (39-19) faces third-seeded Boston College (31-20) in the opener of the Oxford regional.
“It’s going to be tough,” catcher Jake Rogers said. “We’re going to have to have good at-bats. He’s good. He’s got the velocity and he’s got the breaking stuff, so we’ve got to come ready to play and have confidence going up there.”
On its way to a regional championship at Ole Miss in 2004, Tulane beat future Cy Young Award winner Tim Lincecum of Washington in the first game. This time, the Wave is banking on a big outing from staff ace Emerson Gibbs (6-3, 2.44) and its own success against top power arms this season.
After dropping Gooden’s name, Pierce pointed to Illinois’ Cory Sedlock and Pepperdine’s A.J. Puckett, whom Tulane faced in its first two home series, as similar pitchers.
The Wave scratched out two runs off Sedlock (season-ending 2.49 ERA), scoring one on an error and the other on a wild pitch before he left after six innings.
The Wave handed Puckett (1.27 ERA) one of his three losses, scoring three runs in the third and teeing off on Pepperdine’s relievers in the final three innings.
First baseman Hunter Williams compared Dunn to Houston’s Seth Romero, whom Tulane touched up for five runs in 4.1 innings on April 30 at Turchin Stadium.
“All year we’ve thrived against good pitching,” shortstop Stephen Alemais said. “When we tend to struggle, it’s against average pitching. We pretty much bring our ‘A’ game when it comes to the top pitchers.”
The heat and humidity could help. Although the temperature was only 84 degrees, Swayze Field felt like an oven as teams practiced in the afternoon Thursday. With passing thunderstorms in the forecast, the conditions likely will be sultry for the 3 p.m. Friday start.
Boston College’s only series in the south since March — against Georgia Tech — was played with temperatures in the 70s.
“We definitely are going to try to stay as hydrated as possible, but we’re used to it,” Dunn said. “We have some muggy days up there, too, so we deal with it. Maybe not as much as you do down here, but it shouldn’t affect us too much.”
Pierce played down the advantage of facing Dunn in the Oxford heat.
“You tend to see velocity a little better in the daylight, but it doesn’t really matter,” he said. “In game 1, they’ll be totally fresh.”
As long as Dunn stays fresh, runs could be hard to come by for both teams. Boston College coach Mike Gambino said he always believed Dunn was a starter but he kept him in the bullpen for the first half of the year to close out two games each weekend.
The transition worked beautifully. The Eagles have won of his six starts, so the Wave will have to take advantage of its opportunities to advance to the winners’ bracket.
Top seed Ole Miss faces No. 4 seed Utah in the nightcap.
“You can’t try to do too much,” said Williams, who hit a team-best .343 in conference play. “You just have to go up there with a simple approach, take a short swing and try to find the barrel. But you have to swing at pitches you can hit. When you’ve got a guy that has good stuff, if you help him and chase out of the zone, he’s going to make it tough on you.”