This is the same trio that opened the three games last weekend at South Carolina, just not on those same days. Rookie Weatherford started Friday, senior Dunn on Saturday, and sophomore Pigott the game-three.
This is not a new assignment for Dunn, of course. He had been the Friday guy nine-straight weekends, including pre-conference play. But after a couple of short stints against Auburn and Arkansas, the senior southpaw was given some mid-week innings at Southern Mississippi and his weekend start at USC delayed a day. He responded with State's first complete-effort of the season in a 7-2 Saturday victory over the Gamecocks.
Polk said there were no concerns how Dunn would handle having his routine broken. "He's a senior. If he was a freshman and had a couple of bad outings it would be different, but he's been in the wars and is a competitive kid. He pitched well against South Carolina and deserves this opportunity."
Weatherford and Pigott had different outcomes, in what was their first college starts in a tough setting for any pitcher. Weatherford lasted 2.2 innings with eight hits and six earned runs, taking his first loss in five freshman decisions. But the righty doesn't seem shaken by the experience, and his season stat line of a 4-1 record and 3.03 ERA, and moreso a 33-to-5 ratio of strikeouts to walks, merits his place in the rotation.
For his Sunday part Pigott battled through 6.1 innings with 13 hits but just three runs allowed. It was his first start after 27 relief appearances, and his record was unscathed. He is 4-0 with a staff-best 1.23 ERA going into the weekend, and his K/BB rate is 20-to-3 in 29 innings.
State should have a healthy and intact pitching staff for the weekend, as freshman righthander Matt Lea is expected to be on the 25-man roster and in the bullpen. Lea has been sidelined since leaving the April 18 game at Memphis early with shoulder tightness. He was held out of the South Carolina trip to rehab a bit more. Six-SEC Saturday starter RH Josh Johnson is also on the dress-out list and available as needed, though six-Sunday starter John Lalor threw three innings Tuesday in a 21-2 home win over Mississippi Valley State.
Florida is expected to alter their own rotation for the weekend, moving righthander Bryan Augenstein up a day to open the series. Two other righties, Bryan Ball and Chas Spottswood, are supposed to start.
‘Crucial' is the apt word for the weekend matchup. State is clinging to the eighth and last place in the ‘Hoover standings' (see below) at 9-11 SEC, while the Gators are in last place at 6-15. Yet going into the seventh of ten league weekends no conference club has been eliminated from SEC Tournament contention; in fact no squad has even locked up a berth in the field of eight.
"Like everybody else we've got some work to do," Polk said. "Even the ones in front of us have work to do."
At least the work can be done mostly on the home field now. After playing 20 of their previous 28 games on the road, the Bulldogs get to host Florida and Mississippi (May 18-20) at Dudy Noble Field, around a road trip to Kentucky. "It's nice to be back home," Polk said. "It wasn't a great (April) schedule and I guess I'm responsible. But eight of the last 11 games are at home."
SEC Tournament Standings
1. Alabama 15-6 .714 (@ Arkansas)
2. Kentucky 13-8 .619 (vs. Mississippi)
3. South Carolina 13-8 .619 (@Georgia)
4. Mississippi 13-8 .619 (@Kentucky)
5. Arkansas 11-10 .524 (vs. Alabama)
6. Vanderbilt 11-10 .524 (@Tennessee)
7. Georgia 10-11 .476 (vs. S.C.)
8. Mississippi State 9-11 .450 (vs. Florida)
9. Auburn 9-12 .429 (vs. LSU)
10. LSU 8-13 .381 (@Auburn)
11. Tennessee 7-13 .350 (vs. Vanderbilt)
12. Florida 6-15 .286 (@Miss. State)
Tiebreaks: Kentucky is 3-0 vs. USC, and S.C. 2-1 vs. Miss.; Arkansas is 2-1 vs. Vanderbilt