Florida's No. 1-seeded baseball team was expected to make it to the first Sunday of the NCAA Tournament unscathed, what with their roster returning two players who weren't exactly in starring roles while the Gators made their run to the SEC Tournament final a week ago.
And the Gators did make it to Sunday unscathed — but they had two wildly different games en route to their 2-0 start.
On Friday, Florida got its last taste of what it's like to begin a weekend series against a totally undermatched team with Logan Shore on the mound. Florida opened up a 7-0 lead on Bethune-Cookman by the end of the fourth inning by scoring in each of the four frames to that point, then cruised to a 9-3 victory behind a bounce-back outing for Shore.
Florida's Friday starter and the SEC Pitcher of the Year wasn't as razor-sharp as he can be at his best, allowing two earned runs in his 6.1 innings of work and striking out just four batters while permitting eight base-runners, but he was more than good enough for the Gators to win. And Peter Alonso, making his return to Florida's lineup after suffering a fracture in his hand in early May, went 3-for-4 and hammered two home runs to help the Gators' lineup look as good as it has in weeks.
On Saturday, things were tighter.
A.J. Puk gave up a colossal shot to Stadium Road to UConn's Bobby Melley in the first inning, then got touched up in the third and fifth, eventually yielding four earned runs in just 4.1 innings, creating a 5-5 heading to the sixth. This came despite Puk picking up rare run support from his offense, as the Gators pushed across two runs in the third, another in the fourth, and two more in the fifth on another moonshot from Alonso, who gave it the prodigious bat flip it deserved.
Pete Alonso #AnotherOne pic.twitter.com/KeQzYtQx8h— Nick de la Torre (@NickdelaTorreGC) June 5, 2016
When the outfielders are playing five feet from the track and barely try, and the infield just turns and watches it, you have hit a baseball a long, long way.
But Florida wouldn't pull ahead again until the eighth inning, when Jonathan India contributed to a fine night from the Gators' freshman-laden bottom of the order with a solo shot.
And then Shaun Anderson came in after 3.2 innings of one-hit work from Dane Dunning to shut the door with a perfect bottom of the ninth, recording a school record-tying 13th save and vanquishing the Huskies, 6-5.
Florida only trailed for about an inning and a half, and didn't give up a run after Puk left the mound. But a tight game like that should remind that Puk, despite all his otherworldly talent, can be lit up by aggressive hitters who can catch up to his flame-licked fastballs — and that Florida's lineup is potent enough, especially with Alonso in it, and its bullpen ferocious enough (Gators relievers have scattered three hits in 7.1 innings of work this weekend) to survive a bad outing here or there.
The Gators now await the winner of a Sunday matinee elimination game between Georgia Tech (12-3 winners over Bethune-Cookman on Saturday) and UConn, and will have a chance to end their Gainesville Regional on Sunday evening in a game set to start at 6 p.m. The game will air on the SEC Network.