Gators Prepared for NC State Ace on Sunday

The best pitcher in the country is the only thing left standing between Florida and a third straight trip to the College World Series. North Carolina State head coach Elliott Avent elected to save his ace for game two of the series. Florida secured a 7-1 win on Saturday, meaning that Rodon will take the mound on Sunday with his team's back against the wall.

Avent showed that soon after Saturday's loss. When asked how he and his team feel about having Rodon on the mound one loss away from the end of their season, his answer was short and to the point.

"Pretty good," Avent said with a grin.

The freshman has been dominant this season. Rodon is 9-0 with a 1.61 ERA. In 111.2 innings pitched, he has allowed 71 hits, 41 walks and struck out 132 batters. Rodon has allowed just two home runs and is allowing a .181 average against him.

The stats are impressive. His pitches are even more impressive. Rodon's fastball is anywhere from 92-97 mph with a plus slider that serves as his go-to pitch in big situations.

"I know he's a great pitcher," Zunino said. "You've got to be ready to go. I'm going to try to be selective, get some pitches you can handle and not try to do too much. He's had a lot of success. He's a really good pitcher."

Zunino and Rodon join Stanford ace Mark Appel as two of the players nominated for the Golden Spikes Award.

The decision to hold Rodon for the second game was one that drew plenty of criticism. Avent downplayed the move after Saturday's loss and said that it's the way his team lined up the rotation throughout the year, and they didn't want to change Rodon's rest patterns, despite the fact that he threw exactly one week before Saturday's series opener.

"We didn't hold him back," Avent said. "He has pitched second all year. We did just like Florida did. We just did what we've always done. We did what we've done all year.

"There was consideration, but with proper rest and rotations that we've done all year to keep him on the same rest, we thought it was the right thing to do."

The freshman had a pinch-hit appearance on Saturday with two on base, but Hudson Randall got him to ground out to end the inning. Avent said Rodon will have a bigger impact at the plate next season, but the Wolfpack wanted their star freshman to focus on hitting during his first year in college baseball.

He'll make the biggest start of his life on Sunday.

The Gators head into the matchup with confidence because of the arms they have faced. The Gators faced two first round pitchers this season (Mississippi State's Chris Stratton and LSU's Kevin Gausman) and went 2-0 against them.

The depth of quality arms in the SEC, and even the pitchers Florida faced in out of conference games with Cal State Fullerton and Miami, gives the Gators confidence going into Sunday.

"We've faced good pitchers this year," O'Sullivan said. "I'm not saying tomorrow is going to be easy, but I believe in our team. We'll be ready to play."

The Wolfpack is comfortable in this situation. They lost the winner's bracket game to Vanderbilt last weekend in the Raleigh Regional with Rodon on the mound and still came back to win the next three games and advance to this weekend.

"NC State has been in this position before," O'Sullivan said. "They had their backs against the wall last weekend on the brink of elimination. Our players will realize that."

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