The No. 1 Florida Gators (51-14) have forced a winner-take-all Game 3 in the Gainesville Super Regional after blanking the Florida State Seminoles (41-21) by a score of 5-0.
Making his final career start at the Mac, Logan Shore (12-0 2.24 ERA) gave Gator fans an outing they will never forget as he remained undefeated on the year. The junior ace nearly went the distance as he threw eight scoreless innings while yielding just two hits, striking out nine, and walking two batters. At one point, he retired 12 straight Seminoles!
After Shore exited with 114 pitches thrown and a runner on first base, closer Shaun Anderson entered and dashed any dreams of an FSU comeback in the final frame. Working past a leadoff walk, the junior induced a pair of groundouts (with the second being a double play ball) to secure the victory and preserve the shutout.
Offensively, the Gator lineup reawakened and banged out 10 hits in the game as Florida scored in the first, third, eighth, and ninth innings. Three Gators accounted for two or more base knocks and they all resided in the top of the order.
Staying red hot, junior first baseman Peter Alonso crushed three doubles tonight as he went 3-4 with two RBI's and two runs scored. Also notching a two-bagger, sophomore designated hitter JJ Schwarz returned to form as he went 2-5 with an RBI in the ninth inning. Rounding out the multi-hit crew, sophomore Dalton Guthrie went 2-5 as he scored the first two runs of the ballgame.
Of the Gators with just one hit, two players come to mind. First was junior center fielder Buddy Reed. He went 1-2 with a pair of walks and a run scored tonight. Second was freshman second baseman Deacon Liput.
Failing to record a hit in Game 1 and hitless through his first three at-bats tonight, Liput delivered in a big way in the top of the eighth inning. With the bases loaded and two outs, the freshman smacked a 2-2 pitch into right field for a single. It plated two huge insurance runs and boosted the Gator lead to 4-0.
Logan Shore did his job as the team's ace and turned in an electric performance in one of the biggest starts of his career. Before previewing the A.J. Puk start in Game 3, here are my final tidbits on tonight's victory:
- This is the second time this season that Florida has shut out FSU at home. Fittingly enough, FSU's Tyler Holton (3-4, 2.79 ERA) was on the short end of both shut out losses.
- This is the first time ever in NCAA history that there have been back-to-back shutouts in a super regional. It's also a coincidence that the Gators and 'Noles both allowed just two hits in their respective shutouts.
- Before Deacon's clutch single, UF's four starting freshmen combined for a dreadful 1-25 (.040). Now they are 2-26 (.077), which is no better.
- Off the bench, junior outfielder Ryan Larson went 1-2 to boost his season average to .171. He also recorded a putout in the eighth inning.
- Reverting to their usual style of play in Gainesville, the Seminoles used five pitchers and committed two errors on the night.
So here we are. Florida vs Florida State in a Game 3 with a College World Series berth at stake. With much of the tournament field being leveled by upsets, all Florida needs to do is win this game for a near automatic shot at the College World Series Finals.
Taking the mound for the Orange and Blue in the biggest start of his college career is junior lefty A.J. Puk (2-3, 3.21 ERA). Selected sixth overall by the Oakland Athletics in this year's draft, Puk will need to prove to the whole country tomorrow that his 2-3 record is truly because of bad run support.
Puk has a chance to enshrine himself in Gator lore if he can deliver a dominating start like he did against Missouri, Georgia, and LSU this season. For reference, this will be the second time that the 6'7 flamethrower has thrown against the 'Noles.
Back in the 2015 Gainesville Super Regional, Puk earned a no-decision as he threw four innings and surrendered four runs (three earned) on four hits. He struck out six 'Noles while waking three and hitting two. Of course last year, Puk had a bunch of run support as the Gators won that game 11-4 and clinched a trip to the College World Series.
In my opinion, this is a career-defining start for A.J. Puk. I want him to prove to me and all of Gator Nation that he has the talent expected of a first-round draft pick. The lights will be bright and the moment will be bigger than ever. It's now on A.J. to rise to the occasion.
As for FSU, they will look to stave off a Florida team that has regained their offensive prowess. Head coach Mike Martin will give the ball to freshman righty Cole Sands (6-6, 4.21 ERA) as the 'Noles seek to eliminate what would be the fifth national seed of this tournament.
Game time for one of the biggest Florida/Florida State matchups in the rivalry's history is at 7 p.m. It can be seen on ESPN2 and heard on the Gator IMG Sports Network.
*All stats accredited to FloridaGators.com