When the 2016 baseball season started, Boston College’s potential star power stood overshadowed. Birdball was on the west coast in Arizona sweeping Northern Illinois, but the men’s hockey team was sweeping Vermont, their 13th and 14th games without a defeat.
Justin Dunn, tabbed as one of the team’s top two prospects, stood in the bullpen as the closer. Against the Huskies, he threw an inning, giving up a double but striking out two. It was a promising start, but it likely went virtually unnoticed against Thatcher Demko’s 30 saves in a 4-1 win over the Catamounts.
Dunn might’ve waited for his time to shine, but when it became his time, he made the most of it, finishing the year as one of the most electric athletes in Boston College history. For that reason, those of us at BC Interruption are proud to announce our 2015-2016 male athlete of the year as the right-handed pitcher and New York Mets first round draft choice.
There’s a compelling case to make for Demko, so it’s worth noting his achievements. Entering the year with heightened expectations, the Vancouver Canucks draft choice delivered in a huge way. He all but one of the Eagles’ 28 wins, posting a .935 save percentage and 1.88 goals against average. He had five shutouts, and his 1,000-plus saves helped earn him Hobey Hat Trick honors as one of the three best individual players in the nation. He was one of the best ever to man the pipes for the Eagles, and he will be sorely missed from the hallways at Conte Forum.
Both are transcendent athletes who stamped their legacy on the halls of Boston College’s record books. The only separating factor comes from Dunn, who started the year in that bullpen but became arguably the most dominant athlete BC’s seen.
Prior to his move into the rotation, Dunn was elite. He allowed only three earned runs in over 13 innings, striking out 17 to just three walks. Those three walks came in a single outing where he threw 3.1 innings against NC State. Of the 14 hits he allowed, only two were for extra bases, and both came in his first two outings.
Once he moved to the rotation, though, he became the once-in-a-lifetime prospect BC’s never had on the hill. His stuff was electric, and his command unimpeachable. He struck out no less than four in every start, touching up into the high-90s on radar guns. Each appearance drew more scouts, resulting in a circus-type atmosphere every time he delivered a pitch. From notes to text messages to phone calls, the crowds grew at every start until it became must-see theater.
As a starter, Dunn struck out 55 in nine appearances, of which one was a three-inning relief stint against Niagara in which he whiffed six. Against Georgia Tech, with BC needing to sweep a doubleheader in order to make the ACC Tournament, he struck out nine in a complete game victory. He followed that up with an 11-strikeout performance in seven innings against Tulane in the Oxford Regional, a performance that kicked off BC’s run to a sweep of the four-team bracket.
Like so much about the baseball season, though, Dunn’s stature is grown by what he did off the field. He stood front and center for the unique Birdball pregame ritual unless he was pitching on that day. When he wasn’t pitching, he was the first one out of the dugout to congratulate teammates after an inning - even if he appeared earlier in the game. After a game, he was always forthcoming with media, always happy to speak with people, and he handled it with class and maturity.
His leadership to the team came to a crescendo in South Florida. Prior to facing the host Miami Hurricanes in the Super Regionals, the New York Mets drafted Dunn 19th overall. The announcement came with Dunn sitting among his teammates, who promptly went wild. With family and friends surrounding him, he had a chance to soak in the moment.
Justin Dunn started the year in relative obscurity but ended the year celebrating success with 35 of his self-described brothers. He went from an unknown in the mainstream to speaking with the media in New York City. While it doesn’t take away from anything close to what other athletes accomplished, it instead puts a stamp on how special this year by this athlete truly became.