Strike-Throwing Kish Earns Surprising Save

Keenan Kish tossed two innings in the first month of the season for Florida. On Sunday, he got the ball with the tying run in scoring position and Florida two outs from a third straight berth in the College World Series. Improved command and a knockout slider have turned Kish into a trusted arm out of the Florida bullpen, but no one would've predicted what happened on Sunday.

Questions about his consistent ability to throw strikes kept Kish off the mound earlier in his career, but in the biggest outing of his career, Kish threw all six pitches for strikes and sent the Gators to Omaha.

The inning started when Karsten Whitson issued a four-pitch walk and Bobby Poyner hit Tarran Senay in the back with a changeup. After North Carolina State elected to move the runners up with a sacrifice bunt, Florida head coach Kevin O'Sullivan brought Kish out of the bullpen as his team's seventh pitcher of the day.

"I never would've brought him in if I didn't have confidence in him," O'Sullivan said.

Kish rewarded him for that confidence. He jumped ahead of Wolfpack leadoff hitter Trea Turner with two strikes before Turner hit a fly ball to center field on a slider. He followed with a three-pitch strikeout of Chris Diaz to end the game.

All six pitches Kish threw were sliders. All of them were strikes.

"It was working today," Keenan Kish said of the pitch with a grin.

When Kish got to campus in the summer of 2010, he was a thrower. He'll sit in the low 90s with his fastball and has a good slider that serves as his strikeout pitch, but the quality of the pitches was never the problem. It was consistency within the strike zone.

The strong performance happened on Sunday partially because of Kish's mental preparation.

"I was thinking about it ahead of time," Kish said. "I was just running through it in my mind and preparing myself to battle. It all worked out. It was awesome.

"I didn't have any nerves. I was really just numb. I was zoned in, locked in on Mike's glove. I don't remember any batters I faced. I was just looking at the glove and trying to pound the zone."

The aggression of the Wolfpack hitters helped Kish. The Florida pitchers detected early in the weekend that NC State would swing early in the count and be aggressive, and Kish took advantage of that by countering with six straight sliders.

"Coming out of the bullpen, they're up there hacking," Kish said. "I've got to come in and throw strikes. That's the bottom line."

It's a testament to the Florida pitching staff. Since O'Sullivan took over, the roster has been stacked with arms that throw hard and throw strikes. Even if it takes some adjustments with the throwing strikes part of the equation, O'Sullivan has a track record of success with pitchers.

After the lengthy game on Sunday, O'Sullivan wasn't even sure how many pitchers he used. He was told that it was seven, the depth of his pitching forced him to laugh.

"…and your seventh guy is 90-94 (mph) with an 84 mph slider," he said, shaking his head. "Pretty good.

He might not be high on the immediate depth chart of pitchers, but Kish showed the Gators can trust him as they make the trip to Omaha this week.

"Sometimes you get in one outing like this, and it propels you to the next level," O'Sullivan said. "That's the best compliment a coach can give a player—putting him in a situation like that. I'm awfully proud of him."


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