HOOVER, Ala. — For the second week in a row Kevin O’Sullivan turned to freshman Tommy Mace in a big situation. For the second weekend in a row Mace looked like anything but a freshman.
Florida came into the season with a formidable weekend rotation. Brady Singer and Jackson Kowar will be drafted very early next month when the commences and sophomore Tyler Dyson was being billed as potentially the first overall pick in 2019 but Dyson never put it together this season. Ultimately a shoulder impingement was found prior to Florida’s series with Mississippi State. Then, while warming up for his start that week Brady Singer felt a tweak in his hamstring.
O’Sullivan turned to Mace, a 6-6 freshman with dynamite stuff, but Mace had only thrown 39 innings to that point and Florida needed a win to clinch the SEC regular season title. The freshman had also been in a funk, allowing four earned runs in his last 3.2 innings out of the bullpen.
Mace did everything he could to give Florida that win against Mississippi State. In his first start, at one of the rowdiest venues in the SEC nonetheless, he threw 6.1 innings and allowed just one run while striking out five. He was calm and poised, worked out of jams and used three pitches to keep the Bulldogs off guard.
“Sully and I have been talking about heart rate. That’s been our big thing for the past week and a half,” Mace told Gator Country. “I think I really started taking advantage of it and it’s affecting how I throw.”
O’Sullivan turned to Mace again to open the SEC tournament. This time it would be a College World Series Final rematch with LSU. Florida’s defense, which has been consistently one of the best in the country all year long, let him down with four errors but Mace stayed calm.
“I make errors pitching wise all the time and they always pick me up,” he said.
Mace battled through a two run home run in the second and a 3-0 lead to go seven strong innings. Just one of the runs he allowed was earned and he struck out four over a 96-pitch, seven inning win. In his last two starts he’s thrown 13.1 innings, allowed just two earned runs, struck out 9 and has a 1.35 ERA. It’s coming at the right time and it’s eerily reminiscent of Tyler Dyson’s finish to last season.
Dyson had pitched sparingly in 2017 before rain washed away Brady Singer’s chance to pitch in the third and decisive Super Regional game against Wake Forest. When play resumed O’Sullivan turned to the freshman Dyson, hoping to get maybe two innings out of him before piecing together the rest of the game. Dyson threw five scoreless, allowing just two hits to the team that led the nation in home runs. Dyson did it again in the final game of the World Series.
Whether Mace has those kind of heroics in his future remains to be seen but what he’s doing right now for Florida should be lauded in its own right.
“Not to make excuses but if you look at our team right now Brady (Singer) and Tyler (Dyson) — our 1 and 3 pitchers — haven’t pitched and our team captain who caught just about every game is out,” O’Sullivan said of Singer, Dyson and JJ Schwarz.
Mace has been a calming presence in Florida’s lineup and the freshman is coming on just at the right time.