Friday nights are a different animal in college baseball. They set the tone for a series, and the starting pitcher is always the target of numerous radar guns and high expectations.
That’s the way it is for every SEC series during a season (except the ones that start on Thursdays), and it’s no different in the postseason.
Just more intense.
Tonight at 8 p.m., Tommy Mace may not have Florida’s season on the line when he faces Dallas Baptist in the Lubbock Regional, but he knows what is at stake.
“I think it’s awesome,” Mace said of his start in the NCAA Tournament tonight. “They have trust in me. I need to go out there and do my job.”
His job will be to do everything he can to keep Florida in the winner’s bracket of this regional because the loser’s bracket is where seasons go to die.
“If he throws like he did the last two times out, he’ll give us a chance,” said Florida coach Kevin O’Sullivan. “If he doesn’t throw well, it’s going to be tough.”
Mace is coming off a pair of solid performances at Missouri and against Texas A&M in the SEC Tournament. But his performances have been spotty this season after taking over the role of Friday night starter four weekends into the season.
Still, he won eight games despite a 4.99 ERA and a team-leading 38 walks.
Mace is one reason Florida is in Lubbock, according to O’Sullivan, because he set the tone for the sweep of Missouri with the Gator backs against the wall.
“It all started with Tommy,” O’Sullivan said. “I’m really pleased with how he threw at Missouri and in the SEC Tournament. He was very focused.”
Mace took over the Friday night role after Tyler Dyson struggled early in the season in that role as the leadoff pitcher. Dyson has become almost a forgotten man now as Florida has gone to freshman Nick Pogue as the third-game starter.
If Florida is going to make some noise in the postseason after a roller-coaster of a regular season, it is going to have to start tonight.
“I’m so happy for the opportunity,” Mace said. “Hopefully, we can show we’re better than what our season has been so far. We’re just growing. We’re really young. I think it’s going to be a good time.”
NCAA Lubbock Regional
At Rip Griffin Park, Lubbock, Texas
Game 1 — Army (35-24) at Texas Tech (39-17), 4 p.m.
Game 2 — Florida (33-24) vs. Dallas Baptist (41-18), 8 p.m., ESPN3, AM-850, 98.1-FM
Game 3 — Game 1 loser vs. Game 2 loser
Game 4 — Game 1 winner vs. Game 2 winner
Game 5 — Game 3 winner vs. Game 4 loser
Game 6 — Game 4 winner vs. Game 5 winner
Game 7 if necessary — Game 4 winner vs. Game 5 winner