Tuesday, June 14, 2016

UF Baseball: The Florida Gators Are Going Back to Omaha!!!

For the second straight year, the No. 1 Florida Gators (52-14) are going back to the College World Series!

In a complete rout, the Gators posted their second consecutive shutout as they blanked the Florida State Seminoles (41-22) by a score of 7-0. The drafted trio of A.J. Puk, Dane Dunning, and Shaun Anderson all combined for this amazing feat.

Making his biggest start of the season, A.J. Puk (2-3, 3.05 ERA) did his job tonight. Throwing 84 pitches in 3.2 innings, the sixth overall pick allowed no runs and yielded just one hit as he struck out six, walked six, and hit a batter. It was by no means as pretty start, but it was a good enough effort to keep the Gators in front as Puk departed with a 2-0 lead. It would be his fourth no-decision in a row.

Once Puk exited the mound for the final time in Gainesville, Dane Dunning took over and ate up some serious innings as he mowed down FSU's lineup. Allowing only four hits, the 29th overall pick pitched 4.1 fantastic innings of relief while striking out five. Dunning's incredible 67-pitch effort would earn him his sixth win of the season.

In the ninth, who else but Shaun Anderson came in to put FSU away for good. Not even breaking a sweat, the 88th overall pick sandwiched a fly out between a pair of strikeouts to punch Florida's 10th trip to Omaha!

Offensively, the Gator lineup once again put it on the 'Noles as they banged out 13 hits and scored in the first, third, fifth, and sixth innings. Five Gators had two or more hits tonight!

First was Dalton Guthrie. The sophomore shortstop played like a man possessed today. He went 3-4 with two runs scored out of the leadoff spot and single-handedly manufactured the game's first run via aggressive base running.

Guthrie put the early pressure on FSU when he went from first to third on a booted ball that got away from shortstop Taylor Walls. Then with two outs, he took home plate on a dirt ball that bounced about six feet away from catcher Cal Raleigh to make it 1-0 Gators in the first frame.

Behind Guthrie, Buddy Reed found himself back in the two-hole for the first time since the UConn game. Needless to say, the 48th overall pick delivered as went 2-5 with two runs scored in his final game at the Mac.

Of course, this isn't a Gator baseball article without mentioning Peter Alonso. Also playing in his final home game, Alonso electrified the crowd when he crushed a 2-1 pitch over the left field wall with two outs in the third inning to boost the Gator lead to 2-0. It was his team-leading 13th long ball of the season.

Out of the three-hole, the junior first baseman finished the night 2-4 with two runs scored and a hit by pitch. The plunking of Alonso with two runners on in the fifth inning, which may have had something to do with the home run in his prior at-bat, would spell the end for FSU.

With the bases now loaded and no outs, the dangerous JJ Schwarz strode to the plate. After taking a ball in the dirt for ball one, JJ crushed the next pitch completely over the left field seats for a GRAND SLAM! The game had been broken open! It was now 6-0 Florida!

Words cannot describe the pandemonium that ensued in the Mac. I went absolutely ballistic! If you ask any of my friends, my reaction was that of a little kid as I hugged people and jumped what felt like 20 feet in the air!

JJ Schwarz settles in the box just moments before he hits one of the biggest home runs in Florida Gator history.

It's been a while since I have went this nuts at a sporting event. Yes, Gator football has its moments, but a grand slam against FSU in Game 3 of Super Regionals... that's priceless. What I had just witnessed was one of those "moments" in the Florida/Florida State rivalry. There's the "Choke at Doak" and "Greatest Game Ever Played in the Swamp" for football, the Kurtz tip-in for basketball, and now the JJ Schwarz grand slam for baseball.

I even said to my friend Jon Shuba before the at-bat, "We need to see a Bautista home run here." Of course, I was alluding to Jose Bautista's clutch three-run bomb in the bottom of the seventh inning in Game 5 of the 2016 American League Division Series that put the Blue Jays up 6-3.

My celebratory rant aside, JJ also hit an RBI double in the sixth inning as he finished 2-4 with five RBI's, a run scored, and a walk. This is JJ's highest RBI total in a game since the SEC Tournament where he plated in four runs against Mississippi State on May 27th.

Rounding out the multi-hit club, Jonathan India helped boost the combined freshmen batting average for the super regional to .143 (5-35) as he went 2-4. One of those hits was a beautiful bunt down the third base line.

The only other Gators to record a hit were Mike Rivera and Deacon Liput. The sophomore backstop went 1-3 with a walk while the freshman second baseman went 1-4.

Final Takeaway:
Battling back from a 1-0 series deficit, the Florida Gators showed resiliency and proved to the entire country why they were well-deserving of the tournament's No. 1 overall seed. After a wild finale at the Mac, here are my final thoughts on a crazy super regional:

  • This is the first super regional in NCAA history that featured a shutout in every single game!
  • Florida has played a Game 3 in a super regional just twice and won both times. The first was in 2011 against Mississippi State and the second was tonight's game.
  • After the fifth inning of Game 1, Florida proceeded to hold FSU scoreless for a total of 22 straight innings!
  • This is the third time in school history that the Gators has defeated the Seminoles to advance to Omaha. They are now 6-1 all-time against FSU in super regional play.
  • Florida's three juniors struck out 13 Seminoles tonight, while FSU used six pitchers to fan five Gators. 
  • JJ's homer tonight was his seventh of the season and first since May 3rd against Bethune-Cookman. He continues to destroy FSU's pitching as he finishes his sophomore campaign against the 'Noles 10-24 (.417) with 10 RBI's, four runs scored, two doubles, two home runs, and two walks in six games.
  • All of FSU's hits were singles. Twice a Seminole runner reached third base and every time he was stranded there to end the inning. 
  • Florida concludes the season with a 5-1 record against Florida State.

There is really not much more I can say. My final home baseball game as a college student could not have gone any better!

With Florida State in the rearview now, the Gators will turn their attention to the Coastal Carolina Chanticleers (49-18) in the opening round of the College World Series. Words cannot describe how happy I am that Florida will be taking on Coastal Carolina as opposed to an LSU team that had won three of five games against them. My props again go out to the Chanticleers for pulling the upset in dramatic fashion on Sunday night!

Realistically though, I think this will be a blowout. Coastal Carolina may have had what it took to beat LSU, but Florida is a whole different animal. Especially if Coach Kevin O'Sullivan decides to throw Logan Shore, you can consider it an automatic 'W' for the Orange and Blue.

Regardless, there is a reason they play the games on the field and not on paper. So we will see what the Big South Champions are really made of when they take on the best team in the country.

Game time for Florida/Coastal Carolina is set for 8 p.m. on Sunday, June 19th. It can be seen on ESPN2.

As for the Florida State Seminoles, they conclude their season at 41-22. Just like last year, they will return to Tallahassee wondering how they let the Gators chomp them at the Mac. They may have the nod in football and occasionally in basketball, but one thing is for sure: Florida OWNS Florida State in baseball. Period.

Go Gators!

*All stats accredited to FloridaGators.com



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