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Boston College 7, Tulane 2: Birdball Opens NCAA Tournament With Dunn Deal Of A Win

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When the lights shined the brightest, Justin Dunn made sure his star rose to the occasion.

Courtesy BC Athletics

All season long, Boston College righthanded pitcher Justin Dunn answered questions. When he was closing games, people weren't sure how good he really was. When he transitioned to the starter's role, they weren't sure how he would be after he had to throw a number of pitches in different jams. When he dominated, they didn't know what the ceiling was. When he dominated on a big stage, they wanted to see him on a bigger stage.

Each time, he's risen to the occasion, and now, on the biggest stage of his college career, in his last start before the MLB Draft next week, Dunn rose, once again, to the moment.

Pitching in BC's first NCAA Tournament game in seven years, Dunn was virtually unhittable. He went seven innings, striking out a career high 11 batters while walking only one. Throwing 108 pitches, he hit the strike zone about 70% of the time. He allowed only one extra base hit, a triple that brought home the only runs he allowed, facing 27 men for 21 outs.

Laying the groundwork for his teammates, he picked up his fourth win of the year as Boston College defeated Tulane in an NCAA Tournament first round game, 7-2.

It was, essentially a 4-2 game until the later innings. Through the first two innings, the game settled into a pitcher's duel between Dunn and the Green Wave's Emerson Gibbs. One batter reached base through those first two frames, and that was an infield single that was misplayed by Dunn in the bottom of the first.

After Gibbs retired the Eagles in order in the first with two strikeouts, Dunn came back with a strikeout in the first two outs in the bottom. That's when Grant Witherspoon chopped one to the right side. Dunn came off the mound and slipped on the wet turf, twisted his leg and ankle as he bobbled with the ball. Witherspoon was credited with a single in a scary moment where Dunn had to take a practice throw to shake off cobwebs.

Outside of that, nobody reached base in the first two innings. But after a perfect first two innings, Donovan Casey doubled to lead off the third in his first at-bat since April 10th against Virginia. After Logan Hoggarth walked, a productive grounder from Mitch Bigras set up second and third with one out for Jake Palomaki.

Palomaki grounded to second, but Casey scored to give BC a 1-0 lead. Hoggarth, who advanced to third, would score during Michael Strem's at-bat when a wild pitch got away from Gibbs. He got out of the inning, but the small ball Eagles produced a couple of runs to take a 2-0 lead.

It remained that way until the sixth when the Eagles were gifted a run-scoring situation from the umpiring staff. With one out, Jake Palomaki hit a long fly ball into right field. Lex Kaplan reeled in the catch, but he bobbled the ball transferring it to his hand to throw it back into the infield. He had already taken a step, but the second base umpire ruled it was dropped. Palomaki kept running and wound up on second base, where he was ruled safe after a conference. Instead of having nobody on and two out, BC wound up with a man in scoring position with one out.

Palomaki advanced to third when Michael Strem singled, and a stolen base put two in scoring position for Nick Sciortino, who singled to left center to bring them both home. That put BC up 4-0 after five and a half, opening up a couple of much-needed insurance runs.

The insurance was used up in the next half inning. Dunn, who pitched out of trouble in the fourth, gave up back-to-back singles to Stephen Alemais and Jake Rogers, who then executed a double steal to put two in scoring position. Dunn almost got out of it, inducing a pop-up to Witherspoon and a Jeremy Montalbano strikeout, but Hunter Williams blasted a pitch to left center. Logan Hoggarth, who was running back on it, ran out of room and dropped the ball as he came up against the wall, colliding and falling to the ground. Williams hustled around to leg out a triple, halving the BC lead to 4-2.

BC put the game away, however, in the later innings. Gibbs started the eighth but surrendered a leadoff double to Mitch Bigras. Palomaki then worked an epic 14-pitch plate appearance, during which Gibbs balked Bigras over to third, drawing a walk with a full count to put runners at the corners on with nobody out.

That forced the Green Wave to their bullpen for Patrick Duester, who saw Strem lay down a sacrifice bunt to score the runner from third, making it 5-2.

BC blew the doors open in the ninth against Sam Bjorngjeld. With the bases loaded and two out, Palomaki hit one to the left side that Bjorngjeld fielded nicely. But the throw was rushed by the lefty and one-hopped to first behind the runner. That allowed Donovan Casey score, but Logan Hoggarth, who was on his horse, turned the corner and continued to steam towards the plate, giving BC a 7-2 lead.

Bobby Skogsbergh entered the game in the eighth in relief of Dunn, shutting the door with a perfect six outs. Since he entered the game in a save situation, he was credited with his third save of the season.

At the dish, it was a full team effort for BC, who registered seven runs on nine hits. Eight Eagles potted one hit, with Donovan Casey scoring two hits. Both Casey and Hoggarth touched the plate twice as the top three in the BC order accounted for all the RBI. Jake Palomaki had himself an especially strong day, scoring one and plating three.

For Tulane, the bottom four in their order went hitless with only Williams scoring the two RBI. Rogers, who had the single, stolen base, and run scored, wore the sombrero with three K's. Hunter Hope joined Rogers with three strikeouts at the dish.

Gibbs (6-4) absorbed the loss despite pitching well, giving up five runs, four earned, on six hits in seven innings. He struck out five and walked only two, giving up only two extra base hits. Duester went 1.1 innings, charged with the two runs that Bjorngjeld gave up in an inherited situation. The duo combined for three hits allowed.

The Eagles now await the winner of the Ole Miss-Utah game in the winner's bracket of the Oxford Regional. They will play that game at 6 PM on Saturday with the winner advancing automatically to Sunday evening's Regional Finals.