By John Lembo
Similar to everyone else who played themselves into this year’s College World Series, Tyler Dyson has a hat that reads “Omaha Bound.”
Chances are, however, the Braden River High graduate and freshman at the University of Florida had no idea he would be so integral in earning it. But there he was during last week’s Gainesville Super Regional, holding down one of the nation’s most prolific offenses while helping the Gators secure their third straight trip to the College World Series.
Dyson picked the right time to craft the longest and best outing of his young collegiate career. Consequently, the third-seeded Gators are in the winner’s bracket of the College World Series against Louisville at TD Ameritrade Park at 7 p.m. today. The game will be broadcast on ESPN.
“It’s unbelievable,” Dyson said. “This is why you come to Florida.”
What got Dyson there was a fastball that touched the upper 90s, a dominating pitch that was a big reason why he didn’t allow a regular-season earned run during his final year at Braden River. But it didn’t take him long to figure out that a fastball alone wasn’t going to cut it at the collegiate level, especially in the Southeastern Conference.
“If they know it’s coming, they’re going to wait on it,” Dyson said. “You’ve got to try and keep them off balance.”
Dyson spent his side sessions and bullpen stints developing secondary pitches to offset his fastball. What he discovered was the curveball he had thrown in high school had now morphed into a slider, the byproduct of Dyson throwing it harder as a Gator than he did as a Pirate.
After learning how to command it on both sides of the plate, Dyson said he has as much confidence in the slider as he does in his fastball, which is still his main out pitch.
“Once I got it working, I was just throwing it more and more,” he said.
Thanks to a rain-soaked Gainesville Super Regional, Dyson got a chance to show his stuff during Florida’s most crucial part of the season. After Florida won Game 1, Dyson fired two perfect innings in Wake Forest’s Game 2 win, which began Sunday afternoon but didn’t wrap until Monday because of a storm that dumped nearly three inches of rain on the field.
The soggy weather meant the teams had to return for a third and final game not long after the second game had ended.
With the Gators’ staff taxed after Games 1 and 2 each went 11 innings, Dyson entered Game 3 in the third inning with Florida leading by a run. Facing a Wake Forest team that entered the Super Regional having hit 100 home runs, the most in the country, Dyson struck out seven and allowed two hits over five innings, earning the win in Florida’s 3-0 win.
Alex Faedo, a first-round pick of the Detroit Tigers during last week’s amateur baseball draft, pitched the final two innings to earn the save.
In two appearances against the Demon Deacons, Dyson struck out 10, allowed five hits, and didn’t issue a walk over seven innings.
“Tyler Dyson today was really, really good,” Gators coach Kevin O’Sullivan told reporters after Game 3, “and gave us exactly what we needed.”
“That’s what I came to school for,” Dyson said. “Those were the opportunities I knew I was going to have. We were trying to get back to Omaha. If that I meant I had to throw five innings . . . ”
Dyson, who is 3-0 with two saves and a 3.69 ERA in 22 appearances including one start, gives Florida another option in a bullpen anchored by sophomore Michael Byrne, who has already converted a program-record 17 saves.
“Michael Byrne has done a great job,” Dyson said. “With what he’s been doing, I’m just trying to help bridge the gap to get Byrne the ball so he can get that save. I’ve just been trying to be more consistent so I can give the coaches another option to bridge that gap.”
Dyson is one of four Sarasota area players looking to lead Florida to its first national championship, as he is joined by Venice’s Mike Rivera and Dalton Guthrie, and Sarasota’s Nick Long.
Guthrie had three hits and scored a run in Game 3 against Wake Forest, and Rivera added an RBI. Both were selected during the sixth round of last week’s draft, with Guthrie going to the Philadelphia Phillies and Rivera to the Cleveland Indians.
“The stadium is really cool,” Dyson said about Omaha. “The atmosphere. Everything here is centered around the College World Series. But we came here to win a national championship, so you can’t get wide-eyed.”
And Dyson is hoping to get another memento to go with the hat he helped the Gators win last week.
“We’re trying to win a championship ring,” he said.