Key players back for Gators in Regional

The No.1 Florida Gators start a quest for their first National Championship on Friday when they host Bethune Cookman in the opening round of the Gainesville Regional of the NCAA Baseball Tournament. In a year when the Gators started at the top of the polls and finished, they have a couple of players on the mend that are expected to be big contributors this weekend.

First baseman Pete Alonso is the team’s leading batter in terms of average and was leading the team in all batting categories before breaking a bone in his hand against Vanderbilt about a month ago. Alonso has missed quite a few series and the entire SEC Tournament and the offense has paid the price as Florida head coach Kevin O’Sullivan has jockeyed the lineup around to try and help.

Starting pitcher Logan Shore holds the longest winning streak in school history and was on the roll of all rolls before his last two scheduled outings were sidetracked.  After throwing a couple of scoreless innings on the road at LSU a couple of weeks ago a rain delay causes him to miss the rest of that game. A week later, he contracted a stomach bug and missed his scheduled start in the SEC Tournament. He went one inning on Sunday in the championship game, but was on little work during the week and not his usual self.

Both Alonso and Shore are back this week and look to be close to full strength.

“I feel good,” Shore told the media on Wednesday. “I just didn’t feel very good (in the tournament) and Sully didn’t want to put me out there especially with Regionals and everything we have moving forward.

“I feel good. I haven’t gotten to throw a lot because some unfortunate things have happened the last couple of weeks. I felt good the couple of times I threw a couple of bullpens.”

Sophomore catcher Mike Rivera knows just how important Shore is to the equation and what makes him the guy that is best to lead this team off on big weekend series.

“I think it’s his mentality,” Rivera said of Shore. “It’s a lot different. He’s just a bulldog. Even if he gets hit or not, he’s still going to be the same person and not change.

Alonso is well on his way to being back in game shape and has been working on things in the batting cages and during team drills whenever possible.

“I saw him,” Shore said of Alonso from earlier in the week.  “He was taking BP and was tracking in our scrimmage to get a feel for his timing. He said he’s feeling good.

Sophomore catcher / designated hitter J.J. Schwarz filled in at first for the missing Alonso for the first time in his career late in the SEC Tournament. He also believes that Alonso is just about ready.

“He looked like himself,” Schwarz said. “He just had some stuff on his hand, other than that I thought he looked pretty normal.”

Sophomore catcher Mike Rivera also knows the importance of having Alonso back.

“It’s huge,” he said. “The season he’s put up is unbelievable. He’ll just have to step up at the end and do his thing.

Having a full roster to coach should help O’Sullivan dictate to the opponents they face this weekend with Bethune Cookman, Georgia Tech, and UConn in town. He’s got more bullets in the chamber this weekend than he has had in the last month.

“It’s been tough for us all season to put the hitting and pitching together in the same game,” Schwarz said. “Now that we have Pete back, I think it will help us a lot. The pitchers are going to continue to do their thing. Hopefully we can complement each other moving forward.”

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