Monday, June 6, 2016

UF Baseball: #1 Gators Cruise Through Regional

The No. 1 Florida Gators (50-13) are on their way to the eighth super regional in program history after finishing a perfect 3-0 in the Gainesville Regional.

Besides a close contest against UConn (38-25), the Gators barely broke a sweat this weekend. They soundly defeated Bethune-Cookman (29-27) in the regional opener and crushed Georgia Tech (38-25) in the regional final. Here's a brief recap of all three games.

Bethune-Cookman (Regional Opener)
The Wildcats posed absolutely no threat as the Gators smacked them 9-3 to claim the opener. Facing one of the more easier opponents of the year, junior ace Logan Shore (11-0, 2.44 ERA) delivered 6.1 strong innings on route to his 11th win of the season. He left the game with 3 runs (two earned) allowed on five hits, four strikeouts, two walks, and a hit batsman.

Once Shore departed, the barrage of relievers in Brady Singer, Kirby Snead, Dane Dunning, and Michael Byrne finished the contest.

Offensively, Florida's offense was reinvigorated with the return of junior first baseman Peter Alonso. In his first game back since May 13th, Alonso went 3-4 with two home runs, three RBI's, three runs scored, and a walk. Even more spectacular, Alonso went deep in his first at-bat of the game!

Joining Alonso in the multi-hit club for the night, freshman left fielder Danny Reyes continued a hot streak that started in the SEC Tournament. Out of the nine-hole, Reyes batted a perfect 2-2 with a triple, three RBI's, a run scored, a walk, and his first collegiate stolen base.

With Florida finally rediscovering their offense and putting themselves in the winner's bracket, a date with the UConn Huskies awaited the Orange and Blue in the regional semifinals on Saturday.

UConn (Regional Semifinal)
The last time the Huskies and the Gators met at the Mac was for a three-game series in the 2014 season. In perhaps one of the craziest series in Gator baseball history, every single game went into extra innings and ended with a Gator walkoff as Florida pulled off a very unconventional sweep.

Junior lefty AJ Puk pitched the second game of that series as a freshman and received a no-decision after allowing one earned run in 4.1 innings of work. Following the trend, Puk (2-3, 3.21 ERA) earned his 10th no-decision of the year as he yet again tossed 4.1 innings against the Huskies. 

This time around, the stat line was a tad bit escalated as he allowed five runs (four earned) on five hits, struck out five, walked none, and hit a batter. In a weird coincidence, Puk exited with a pitch count of 75. This was the same number of pitches he threw against UConn two seasons ago.

After Puk's early exit, junior righty Dane Dunning entered and threw 3.2 fantastic innings of one-hit relief. He walked one and struck out one in his stint out of the pen.

When Dunning was pulled after 39 pitches, Florida had pushed across a run to gain the lead! The game was now in the hands of junior closer Shaun Anderson. The Huskies went down without a fight, as Anderson retired all three batters he faced and capped the game with a strikeout. 

It was Shaun's 13th save of the year, which tied a school record. In the process, Dane Dunning also earned his fifth win of the season.

Despite another rough outing from Puk, the Gator offense relied on three home runs to propel them to a 6-5 victory. The biggest of these three came in the eighth inning, when freshman third baseman Jonathan India crushed a 2-1 pitch over the left field wall to break a 5-5 tie. This was his first home run at McKethan Stadium.

India was one of two Gators to record a trio of hits as he went 3-4 with his fourth long ball of the season, one RBI, and one run scored. The other Gator with a triplet of base knocks was sophomore shortstop Dalton Guthrie, who went 3-5 with two runs scored.

Right between Guthrie and India, Peter Alonso continued to swing a hot bat as he launched his third home run of the regional completely out of the park. He finished the night 2-5 with two RBI's and a run scored.

Rounding out the home run crew, Danny Reyes became the fourth Gator freshman to go yard this year as he parked his first collegiate deep fly over the right field fence. It would be his only hit of the night.

Now in prime position to take the regional after a hard-fought win, Florida had to wait and see who would emerge from the UConn/Georgia Tech elimination game at noon on Sunday.

Georgia Tech (Regional Final)
The Yellow Jackets prevailed over the Huskies 7-5 in their elimination game, setting up the first meeting between both squads since the 2012 Gainesville Regional (where Florida took both games over the Yellow Jackets).

Florida needed just one win to advance to super regionals while Georgia Tech needed two. Add in the fact that Alex Faedo was throwing for the Gators and a hard task for Georgia Tech became nearly impossible.

Like he has done all season, Faedo (13-1, 3.19 ERA) turned in another gem as he struck out 10 Jackets over eight scoreless innings of work. The sophomore allowed just four hits, issued one base on balls, and hit one batter as he threw 101 pitches and won his 13th game of the season. 

This was the fifth time this year that Faedo registered double-digit strikeouts and the third time he fanned 10 batters in a game.

When Faedo left, the game was well in hand as Florida led 10-0. Georgia Tech was able to plate a run off of sophomore lefty Scott Moss, but their dreams of a miracle comeback were dashed once closer Shaun Anderson took the mound.

In the game presumably just to get some work, Anderson worked out of a bases-loaded jam as he struck out a batter and induced a game-ending ground ball to clinch the regional.

Offensively, four Gators had multiple hits with who else but Peter Alonso leading the way. Keeping the ball in the yard this game, Alonso went 3-5 with a double, three RBI's, and two runs scored.

Right ahead of the hot-hitting first baseman, Jonathan India continued to swing it well as he went 2-3 with an RBI, two runs scored, and a pair of walks.

Finally contributing to the offensive carnage within the top of the order, sophomore designated hitter JJ Schwarz broke out of his 0-8 slump as he went 2-4 with a double, two runs scored, and a walk.

Moving down to the eight-hole of the Gator lineup, freshman right fielder Nelson Maldonado concluded his first regional with some quality at-bats as he went a perfect 2-2 with a double, two runs scored, and two walks.

Final Takeaway:
Now that we have relived all three of Florida's regional victories, let's take a look at the Gators' offensive and pitching leaders from this weekend:

  • Hits: Peter Alonso (8)
  • Doubles: Dalton Guthrie/Deacon Liput/Peter Alonso/JJ Schwarz/Nelson Maldonado (1)
  • Triples: Danny Reyes (1)
  • Home Runs: Peter Alonso (3)
  • RBI's: Peter Alonso (8)
  • Runs Scored: Peter Alonso (6)
  • Batting Average*: Peter Alonso (.571)
  • Stolen Bases: Danny Reyes/Deacon Liput (1)
  • Walks: JJ Schwarz/Nelson Maldonado/Mike Rivera/Buddy Reed/Deacon Liput (3)
  • Strikeouts: JJ Schwarz (5)
  • Hit By Pitch: Jonathan India (2)
  • At-Bats: Dalton Guthrie (15)
*Must have played in all three games

  • Strikeouts: Alex Faedo (10)
  • Walks: Logan Shore (2)
  • Hits allowed: Logan Shore/A.J. Puk (5)
  • Runs allowed: A.J. Puk (5)

After an incredible stretch where he went 8-14 with three home runs, eight RBI's, and six runs scored, Peter Alonso was named Regional Tournament MVP. He showed this weekend just how dangerous this Gator lineup can be when his bat is back in it. His monstrous regional also put him back on top of the Gator home run charts, as he now has a team-leading 12 on the season.

In three games this weekend, Florida scored 25 runs. Compare that now to five games in the SEC Tournament, where Florida scored 26 runs. Even though the level of competition is completely different, it's obvious that this lineup is clicking when Pete is present. For him to come off a wrist injury and hit as well as he did is nothing short of amazing.

What's also astonishing is that Florida now boasts four true freshmen in the lineup with the addition of Danny Reyes in the outfield. Notching a hit in every game, Reyes went 4-9 (.444) with two extra base hits, five RBI's, and three runs scored. He also flashed some leather in the Georgia Tech game as he made a spectacular diving catch in left field to preserve Alex Faedo's shutout.

With both Alonso and Reyes killing it from the top and the bottom of the lineup, the Gator offense is slowly becoming a formidable beast that no pitching staff will want to deal with.

Of course, I can't just look at some of the top performers and ignore those who may need to retool their game as the Gators head deeper into the postseason.

Nobody went hitless in the regional, but there are a handful of Gators who were stymied at the plate. They were: junior centerfielder Buddy Reed (1-12), sophomore designated hitter JJ Schwarz (2-12) sophomore catcher Mike Rivera (1-11), and freshman second baseman Deacon Liput (2-9).

Keep in mind, all of the four players above did contribute either walks, runs, or the occasional RBI over the weekend. Although I doubt any of these players' slumps will last for long, I do hope that they figure it out with super regionals less than a week away.

Speaking of super regionals, Florida will be hosting for the seventh time in school history. Their opponent is a familiar one: the Florida State Seminoles (40-20). 

Meeting the 'Noles for the second straight season in super regional play, Florida holds a 2-0 record over their rival in the precursor series to Omaha.

As a memory jog, Florida smacked Florida State by a combined score of 24-9 (13-5 in Game 1 and 11-4 in Game 2) in last year's Gainesville Super Regional. In addition to two routs, Florida swept this season's series against the 'Noles and has beaten the Garnet and Gold in the last five meetings. Also worth noting, the Gators haven't lost a home game to Florida State since 2013.

Florida State will be looking for revenge, and Florida will look to duplicate their super regional performance from just a season ago. Game 1 will either take place on Friday, June 10th, or Saturday, June 11th. 

Regardless of what day these two rivals revisit each other, the probables pitchers for Florida will be. Logan Shore in Game 1, A.J. Puk in Game 2, and Alex Faedo if a Game 3 is necessary. Florida State will counter with freshman lefty Tyler Holton (3-3, 2.92 ERA), sophomore righty Drew Carlton (7-3, 4.36 ERA), redshirt senior righty Mike Compton (5-3, 4.92 ERA), and/or freshman righty Cole Sands (6-6, 4.21 ERA) in some way, shape, or form.

All the games can be seen on ESPN's family of networks. Game time for the opener should be around 7 p.m.

*All stats accredited to

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