Peter Alonso (Kan Li / Scout)

Alonso powers Gators to win Regional opener over Bethune-Cookman

The #1 ranked Florida Gators (48-13) got their championship bid off to a good start by beating #4 seed Bethune-Cookman (29-26) 9-3 on Friday night. First baseman Pete Alonso (3-4, 3 R, 3 RBI, 2 HR) marked his return in style by homering in each of his first two at-bats after returning from a month on the bench with a broken hand.

Normal 0 false false false EN-US X-NONE X-NONE It has finally arrived. After a long offseason, the Gators finally have the opportunity to right the wrongs that occurred in Omaha almost one year ago. Massive expectations took their toll, but the resilient Gators entered the NCAA Regionals as the #1 overall national seed for the second time under Head Coach Kevin O’Sullivan. The work done in the first months of the season were vital, setting the team up with as forgiving of a path as possible. Now the vital month has arrived, the one month where these Gators answer the questions that have been asked since the fall. Can they finally win a national championship? Is this the most talented college baseball team ever? Step one to discovering the answers to those questions was tonight, as Florida swept aside Bethune-Cookman for the second time this

The Gators started brightly and needed to, as inconsistency at the plate has led to a trying month of May. The Wildcats were unsuccessful at keeping Florida scoreless in an inning until the fifth, when the lead was 7-1. Left Fielder Danny Reyes (2-2, R, 3 RBI, 3B, BB) was the catalyst of the offense in between Alonso’s homers in the first and fourth, drawing a walk and stealing and base in the second and smashing a triple in the third. The Gators used several unlikely performances in last year’s postseason to power a trip to the College World Series and the freshman from Miami Springs was the first to answer the call this during this campaign. O’Sullivan was pleased with the production from both, as they will need multiple outlets throughout the next several weeks.

“The guy’s been out for 27 days. Usually special things happen in this postseason. You need special performances, like Danny (Reyes) coming in. He’s worked hard, he’s kept his chin up and he’s been a great teammate. You try to preach the same word to everybody – just keep working hard and when you get your opportunity, do the best you can with it. I think he’s got maybe close to 10 RBIs since the SEC Tournament, and he’s making the most of it. If you’re going to win a championship, there’s things that have to happen that are kind of special. Danny’s one of those stories so far, and getting back Pete and hitting two homers in the first game of regionals is another. It’s funny how that works, but you kind of have to have a little magic this time of year.”

It’s not often that junior Logan Shore (W 11-0, 2.46) is not the star of the evening, but a strong performance was a welcome sight after his last appearance in Hoover lasted only an inning. Shore was not at his sizzling best, but it was enough to move the Gators to the next step. The junior was not overly impressed with his display, but pointed out his best perhaps should not have been expected.

“I thought I was okay. I definitely didn’t pitch as well as I could’ve, but I haven’t really thrown very much in three weeks. I think it’s a good stepping stone going into next weekend, provided that this weekend goes how we want it to. I thought my stuff was alright. It just felt good to get back out there and throw an extensive amount of innings.”

Nothing could take away from Alonso’s big night, as the junior crushed his tenth and eleventh home runs of the season tonight, answering quickly what we could expect from his return from a broken bone in his hand. O’Sullivan’s confidence was well placed, as the first baseman’s health was a major point of emphasis this week, as the sputtering offense has missed their statistical leader this past month.

““On Wednesday, we gave him extra at-bats. We played a three-inning intra-squad, and we kept running him up there and he swung the bat really well. From that point, I had confidence in him from the way he swung the bat against our own pitchers. I had a decision to make – do you just insert him right there in the four-hole, or do you kind of ease him in in the six or seven? After his performance on Wednesday, it was pretty easy – just get him in there, and hopefully he picks up right where he left off. I didn’t know if he was going to hit two homers. It’s funny how things work like that.”

The Gators take on the UCONN Huskies at 6pm in the winner’s bracket. AJ Puk takes on Huskies starter Anthony Kay, another projected first round pick. O’Sullivan understands the competition will ramp up tomorrow, as the #3 seed Connecticut saved their top starter for a crucial Saturday match up.

 “I’m looking forward to playing a good UConn team. I was impressed with them today. They played very hard, and they played with emotion. They swung the bats very well there. We’re fully aware of the pitcher that we’re seeing tomorrow, Anthony Kay. He’s very talented. He played with four of our guys this past summer on the USA team. It’ll be like facing other SEC starters in our league, and we’ve done that all year long. We’ll run A.J. Puk out there. It’ll be a really good match-up for A.J. I’ve got full confidence that A.J. will give us a great start against their No. 1 starter.”

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