Reed lifts Gators to series win over Alabama

With the go-ahead run on third base in a tie game, Alabama didn’t want to let Florida center fielder Buddy Reed hit left-handed.

The Crimson Tide handed the ball to left-handed closer Thomas Burrows, forcing Reed to hit right-handed. Last season, that probably would have worked. But after working through most of the offseason on his right-handed swing, Reed smacked a two-run single into left field, breaking the tie and sparking the Gators to a 7-4 win over Alabama that secured the series win.

“I think I’m better left-handed, but I’ve been working hard in the cage,” Buddy Reed said. “It was a good pitcher, so I just wanted to put the ball in play and help my teammates out. I couldn’t have (improved the right-handed swing) without the help of my teammates. There’s so many right-handed hitters, just asking them questions about being comfortable and getting comfortable in the box. It has come a long way.”

The sophomore went 2-3 on the day and pushed his average to .302 this season. Reed got into the lineup as a freshman last season because of his speed and defense, but his swing has taken a big step forward this season.

“I could tell by the way he took that first pitch that he was seeing it pretty good,” Florida coach Kevin O’Sullivan said. “The improvements he’s made from the right side are really good. I feel good with him from either side of the plate.

The Gators went trailing 4-3 in the seventh inning with two outs and nobody on base when first baseman Jeremy Vasquez lined his second home run in as many days to right field, tying the game. The freshman missed the first four weeks of the season with a broken finger, and even though he’s healthy and has been for the last three weeks, he’s still gaining strength in his hand.

It’s getting close to 100 percent, and it’s no coincidence that his power is starting to come back.

“Now I can get my barrel through the zone a lot quicker, I can drive the ball a lot better now,” Vasquez said. “Every day it’s getting stronger, and I’m getting better.”

The game looked like a pitching duel early as Florida starter Dane Dunning and Alabama starter Geoffrey Bramblett.

Dunning cruised through the first four innings, allowing just a single to lead off the game. The only other hitter that reached in the next 15 came on an error by first baseman Jeremy Vasquez.

The fifth and sixth innings were what caused problems for Dunning. After recording the first two outs in the fifth, he gave up a single and a double to score one run before escaping further damage. In the sixth inning, Dunning issued a one-out walk that stole second and went to third on a throwing error by catcher Mike Rivera. After the run scored on a sacrifice fly, Dunning gave up a two-out single before Alabama catcher Will Haynie hit a hanging breaking ball into the left field bleachers to give the Crimson Tide a 4-3 lead.

“I thought Dane threw the ball great,” O’Sullivan said. “Other than one pitch. It seems like every time out there, he’s just getting a little bit better. And that’s a good offensive lineup. They’re experienced. Other than that one pitch, he threw the ball great.”

An unlikely hero saved the day for a Florida bullpen that blew the first game of the series.

Left-hander A.J. Puk was pulled from the starting rotation after struggling at Ole Miss last week, but O’Sullivan turned to him with two outs in the sixth inning on Saturday. Puk struck out five of the first eight hitters he faced, allowing only one hit and one walk to finish the game.

The sophomore admitted that this week was difficult at times mentally, but he saw Saturday as an opportunity to start his campaign to get back in the weekend rotation.

“I’m not going to lie, getting pulled from the rotation was not my favorite thing,” Puk said with a grin. “I didn’t pitch well last week, and I wanted to come out today and prove myself again. Hopefully they’ll give me another shot at starting or out of the pen, whichever one helps the team.”

O’Sullivan agreed, preaching a similar message that he has since before the season began.

“He’s talented. It’s really simple, just fill up the strike zone. For us to get to where we want to get to, A.J. Puk should be and needs to be one of our starters. It’s that simple. I’ve said that to him, I’ve said that to ya’ll, I’ve said it to everybody. Dane Dunning, A.J. and Logan Shore need to be our three guys on the weekend. They need to pitch that way. This weekend, I think they did for the most part.”

The Gators will face Florida State on Tuesday at the Baseball Grounds of Jacksonville in the second game of the midweek series. Florida won the first meeting 14-8 in Gainesville.

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