The Gators received a strong effort from Puk (5.1 IP, 1 ER, 3 K, 4 BB) in the first game of the doubleheader, holding the Crimson to one hit in five-and-a-third innings. His fastball was consistently in the mid-90’s, peaking at 97 mph in the early innings. As soon as a drop in velocity was noticed, Florida Head Coach Kevin O’Sullivan pulled the junior to preserve his arm for later in this young campaign. Harvard pitcher Sean Poppen (1-1) kept the game close in the early innings with a well-placed fastball and sufficient changeup, holding the Gators to five hits in the opening five innings. The Florida offense would rebound against the Ivy League team, led by three-run homers from both freshman left fielder Nelson Maldonado (1-4, 3 RBI, 3 BB) and first baseman Pete Alonso (3-4, 3 RBI) in the sixth and seventh innings, respectively. Freshman Brady Singer (2-0) came on in relief of Puk and picked up the second victory of his collegiate career. Harvard could not mount a comeback and game one would end 9-2 in favor of the home team.
Game two can only be described as an old fashioned pitcher’s duel, with Faedo’s brilliance (8.1 IP, 2 H, 1 ER, 13 K, 0 BB) just eclipsing his counterpart, junior Nick Gruener (7 IP, 8 H, 3 ER, 7 K). Both pitchers were nothing short of dominant in the early innings. The Gators could muster little more than isolated hits as the toll of a late game the night before and game one of the doubleheader were visible in the tired swings from the Florida batters. However small, it was infinitely more than Harvard, as Faedo took perfection into the seventh inning, striking out eleven of the thirteen batters he demoralized in the first six. Faedo’s fastball hovered around 94 mph, with his well-placed 84 mph slider proving the most devastating of his offerings.
The Gators finally broke the deadlock when Nelson Maldonado capped a career day (5 RBI) with a two-run double in the seventh. O’Sullivan likes the fight the freshman has shown after seizing the starting left field role following a sluggish start.
"The thing I love about Nelly is he's very competitive. He plays hard. He's got one gear, and that's to go full speed all the time. We had the luxury of seeing these guys in the fall and early spring. He's always hit since he's been here, he's always hit in high school and he's always hit off our pitchers. He did not get off to the start that he thought he would have or the coaches thought he would have. I think we made a conscious decision going into the weekend -- let's give him a chance here, let's stay with him and let's see if he can string together some quality at-bats. He did. I'm pumped for him. He lends a lot of energy to our team."
Nick Horvath added the cherry on top of a fantastic day in center field while offering reprieve to Buddy Reed with a jaw-dropping squeeze bunt that gave the game its final score line and got the fans on their feet.
After a long day, O’Sullivan was very pleased with the effort of his starting pitchers.
"We saw two legitimate SEC starters (A.J. Puk and Alex Faedo) today. Both guys were running the ball up there to 94, they both had good sliders, they were able to throw them for strikes in fastball counts and they were both very, very competitive. Alex was lights out -- 13 strikeouts and no walks. I know he wanted to finish the game, but it's a long season.”
The Gators now have an eleven game winning streak since stumbling to Miami on February 27th. With consistent, outstanding performances from his pitching staff, that number has the potential to get a lot bigger. Florida showed this weekend that when necessary, they can make adjustments that can change the outcome of ballgames. Being able to evolve over the course of the weekend will be invaluable with conference play looming. Another question asked and another box checked for this exciting team.
The Gators next face #15 Florida State Tuesday night at 7 p.m. at McKethan Stadium for the first of three games against the Seminoles that are spread out during the season. It will be televised live on the SEC NETWORK.