The game had the potential to become a pitcher’s duel, with Puk squaring off against Connecticut junior Anthony Kay (5.2 IP, 8 H, 4 ER, 3 K, 2 BB), who like Puk has a first-round grade for next week’s MLB Draft. While each pitcher had their moments of brilliance, neither was sharp, clear come the fact that each pitcher issued a solo homer early in the contest, with right fielder Danny Reyes’s (1-3) third inning effort cancelling out Connecticut’s Bobby Mellie’s massive shot off Puk in the opening frame. Some stellar base running from sophomore shortstop Dalton Guthrie (3-5, 2 R) allowed Florida to take the lead for the first time in the third inning that would last minutes, as the Gators were lucky to allow only one run after Buddy Reed’s (1-4, RBI, BB) second error of the year started a shaky inning for the Gators.
Florida would take the lead in the fourth through a Nelson Maldonado (1-4, RBI) single and have it extended to 5-2 when first baseman Pete Alonso (2-5, R, 2 RBI, HR) continued his torrid pace after his return from injury by smashing another home run out of the park in the fifth. The junior was buzzing in his second big night in a row after almost a month on the sidelines with a broken hand.
““It feels amazing. Being out sucks; being on the sidelines and sitting in the stands at the SEC tournament was no fun. Coming back and contributing the way I am, I couldn’t be happier. I’m looking to keep it rolling and help my team win.”
The lead would not last long as Puk unraveled, allowing three hits, a wild pitch, and a hit batsman, culminating in three runs and a tied ball game. The Gators called on junior Dane Dunning (W 3.2, H, K, BB) to shot the bleeding and like he has done so often during this campaign, he delivered, shepherding the Gators through the eighth inning, where India’s leadoff home run proved pivotal. Junior Shaun Anderson entered the game in the ninth and was his usual, lights-out self, recording three quick outs that put the Gators one win from a Super Regional. Florida Head Coach Kevin O’Sullivan was impressed with Connecticut, while also understand the importance of winning your second game.
“Compliment Connecticut, they battled and jumped out on us in the first inning. We took the lead, they answered back; we took the lead, they answered back. They’re a very, very tenacious group. The Saturday game seems to be the most difficult one since both teams are 1-0 and understand that they have to win one more to finish the regional; if they lose, they have to win three. Obviously we have a long way to go.”
The season has provided many big moments for last year’s number one ranked recruiting class, none more so than India’s blast in the eighth. With an 82% success rate for 2-0 teams in regionals, the freshman’s shot could implications beyond this weekend. He knew what he was looking for at the beginning of the at-bat and trusted his instincts with the rest.
“I was looking for a fastball. (Anthony Kay) was throwing a lot of sliders, but I got my good pitch. I thought off the bat it was good and I hit it pretty well, but then I saw it come back a little bit. I’m just glad it went out.”
Florida will play the winner of the first game on Sunday (noon) between #2 Georgia Tech and #3 UCONN at 6pm. The Gators will now have two opportunities to punch their ticket to a second straight Super Regional. O’Sullivan was pleased with the effort tonight and sounds like a man whose team is maybe starting to heat up at the right time.
“Jonathan (India) came up with a big hit at the end. I thought our bullpen was outstanding. Dane (Dunning) was probably the story of the game pitching-wise. Pete (Alonso) is swinging a really hot bat, and you can see the difference in our lineup when he’s in it. I’m pleased with how we battled. It wasn’t a clean game by any means, but we did enough at the end to win. I’m looking forward to tomorrow and to getting Alex Faedo back out there.”