Tim Casey / UAA Communications

A.J. Puk stars as Gators down Mizzou and take series

The #1 ranked Florida Gators (20-1, 2-0) dispatched the Missouri Tigers (14-8, 0-2) for the second consecutive night. All-American left-hander A.J. Puk (1-1) led the way and the Gators cruised to a much more comfortable victory than Friday night and remained perfect in conference play.

Not to be outdone by predecessor Logan Shore who was dominant on Friday, Puk (7 IP, 3 H, 11K, 1 BB) put in a similarly dominant effort on the night, dialing up strikeout after strikeout in a stunning effort from the mound. Puk’s fastball reached as high as 97 mph on the night, and was likely not his most effective pitch on the evening. Puk located his slider and changeup perfectly throughout the evening and the Tigers had no answer for the 6-foot-7 powerhouse who was able to ring up one more batter than Shore’s effort the night before. Florida Head Coach Kevin O’Sullivan thought that Puk finally brought his ‘A’ game after several appearances below his standard of work.

“Pitching-wise, that was the best A.J. (Puk)'s pitched since last year. I know everybody's been kind of waiting for that one start, and there it was. His pace was good, and his stuff was good the entire night.”

The Florida offense was much more consistent on the evening, getting off to a good start through a Deacon Liput (2-4, RBI) home run in the bottom of the second. Fellow freshman Jonathan India (2-3, 2 RBI) added an RBI single in the fourth inning, coming from stellar manufacturing. Combined with Puk’s performance from the mound, the tone was set for the rest of the contest. The Gators would add to their lead in the fourth through a Jeremey Vasquez (1-2, RBI) RBI single and again in the sixth from a titanic blast from first baseman Pete Alonso (2-4, HR), his fourth of the season. India would add another run in the seventh, extending the lead to five at the time.

Puk’s relief was not quite as convincing, as Jackson Kowar and Nick Horvath combined to allow two runs to score in the top of the eighth. Junior Shaun Anderson (1.1 IP, 2K, S), the bullpen’s most dependable arm so far this season, came in to record the final four outs for the Gators in a boring ninth compared to last night’s nail biter. DH Mike Rivera (2-3, 2B, HR) would pad the lead in the ninth with his team-leading fifth home run of the season.

 Missouri, who took the nation’s number one team to extra innings the night before, had much less fight in them Saturday, seemingly still subdued from the manner of the previous night’s defeat. No amount of ‘fight’ was likely to work, as Puk forced his plethora of pitches down the throats of the lackluster Tigers offense, who managed only three hits through the first seven innings. Puk pointed out the inspiration for his performance after his dominating effort.

“I felt pretty good today. Last year, I basically threw these guys BP, and I wanted to come out today and throw the ball way better than I did last year against them."

The offense held their own and rebounded from a poor output the previous night and the Gators seemed to discover that they can score in a variety of ways. The fourth was as encouraging as hitting three home runs, as Alonso’s infield single started an impressive, strategic inning that saw a run brought in via a sacrifice bunt and fly. Coach O’Sullivan was encouraged after a below par performance the night before.

“"I thought our approach tonight was outstanding. We needed to grind out at bats. We needed to get to their pitch count and get him (Missouri starting pitcher Tanner Houck) out of there by six (innings).”

Despite the improvement at the plate, Puk was the star in a relaxed, yet commanding performance from the Florida ace. O’Sullivan thought it was important for Puk to throw for a season-high in innings to keep his confidence flowing in recording his first positive result of the season.

“It could've been easy to take him out after six, but I told him that it was very important for him to go out there for the seventh. He's one of the best pitchers in the country; you need to go out there and finish the seventh. He showed a lot of grit and a lot of fight tonight.”

The Gators continue their march towards glory at 1pm Sunday afternoon. Sophomore Alex Faedo (4-0, 1.42) looks to continue his hot start taking on Missouri senior left-hander Austin Tribby (2-1, 3.16) for the conclusion of the three game series.

Fightin Gators Top Stories