GAINESVILLE, Fla. — Fans at McKethan Stadium were granted free baseball in each of this weekend’s games between the Florida Gators and UConn Huskies, and in each of those games, the Gators walked off as victors.
Much like the temperature in Gainesville, the Gators’ bats slowly warmed up throughout the weekend, a weekend that was clearly defined by an impressive showing from the Florida pitching staff. Through 31.0 innings of play, Florida pitching surrendered just six runs (five earned) on 24 hits, while surrendering nine free passes and fanning 27 batters (16 of which came on Saturday) to the tune of a 1.45 ERA.
But before we can assess the weekend that was, let’s take a quick look at each of the three games, as we will be able to track the progression of the Gators in their respective sweep of the Huskies.
Freshman right-hander Logan Shore was not only the class of the field on Friday, but of the entire weekend series. Making his third career start (and fourth appearance), Shore tossed a rather stout outing, working seven scoreless frames of two-hit ball, fanning four batters and surrendering just a single walk.
The right-hander out of Coon Rapids, Minnesota has been the epitome of efficiency this season, evoking memories of a young Hudson Randall that impressed in his freshman campaign back in 2010. In 20.0 innings this season, Shore has surrendered just two walks and perhaps most impressive of all, he’s allowed just one earned run in the process.
As per head coach Kevin O’Sullivan, Shore is “pitching ahead of his years,” one of the many reasons as to why the freshman was given the Friday night role. For one, his mound presence is quite impressive for a freshman, as he displays great poise and an ability to remain calm and collected during pressure situations. For another, Shore pounded down in the zone with a heater that worked between 89-92, while displaying a curve (more of a slurve, to be honest) that has become a legitimate swing-and-miss pitch.
Shore kept the Huskies’ lineup off balance throughout the night, allowing the Florida offense ample opportunity to capitalize and muster up some offensive support. However, the Gators were unable to capitalize on anything Friday evening, stranding runners on third in five innings, including a bases loaded threat with two outs in the bottom of the tenth that could have ended the ball game.
However, the offense finally broke through in the eleventh. Josh Tobias led off the inning with a single up the middle, as he would advance to second on a sac bunt by Buddy Reed. After Richie Martin lined out to second, Casey Turgeon ripped a single to right, plating Tobias from second for the game-winner.
“At some point you just gotta go out and play,” O’Sullivan said. “They gotta execute. I mean it’s as simple as that. They’re not getting coaches any differently than they have in years past. We just gotta bear down and play baseball and we need to have better at bats when we need them, you know it’s just as simple as that. Like I said, it’s not going to be like this all year, it has to turn at some point.
“I keep telling them it’s going to change. At some point we’re going to be the offensive team that we think we can be, but we as a group have to be ready to go and continue to work hard, and it will happen. I don’t know if it’s tonight, tomorrow night, Sunday night, but at some point the tide is going to turn; we just gotta stay the course. “
The tide would show signs of turning on Sunday afternoon, but first we must turn our attention to Saturday’s contest, which would ultimately serve as the bridge between Friday’s offensive mediocrity to that of Sunday’s offensive renewal.
Florida Gators Baseball – Notes of Interest
• Prior to Friday, the last time the Gators went to extras was on April 27, 2013 in a 3-2 victory over Tennessee
• In keeping with the free baseball theme, Friday served as the first time in team history the Gators took a scoreless game past the ninth inning
• Richie Martin (So, SS) saw his 17-game hitting streak end, as well as his streak of 32 games having reached base safely, both of which dated back to last season
• Peter Alonso (Fr, 1B) extended his hitting streak to seven games, while Casey Turgeon (Jr, 2B) notched his fifth multi-hit game of the season on a walk-off single to right in the bottom of the eleventh
O’Sullivan felt it was time to shake up the weekend rotation, placing a pair of freshman arms at the front of the rotation, a decision that would soon be deemed rather wise after a solid outing by freshman left-hander A.J. Puk on Saturday (following Friday’s stellar outing from Shore).
Making just his second start (fifth appearance) of the season, Puk turned in 4.1 innings of work, surrendering one run on three hits, while fanning a team season-high seven strikeouts with just a single free pass.
Puk got off to a good start, grabbing two early strikeouts in the first and displaying a heater that consistently sat between 90-93, a pitch he commanded solidly, although that command wavered before he was pulled in favor of Aaron Rhodes in the fifth.
Nonetheless, Puk showed good progress from his last start and possessed poise on the mound, as the freshman out of Cedar Rapids, Iowa was comfortable from the first pitch.
“Coming into the game I was comfortable, I felt really good,” Puk said. “I had a good pen before coming in, I was really confident and I was excited to get out today.
“The bullpen came in after me and did an outstanding job. They kept us in the game and they got us a win tonight; it was very good all around. Each start is building on something new each time and just getting out there and hopefully the next one I’m better and just continue to throw strikes and get out of innings where I’m not throwing strikes as much. “
After the Huskies plated the first run of the game in he top of the fifth, the Gators responded in the bottom of the frame. Buddy Reed jumped on the first pitch he saw, lifting a double down the line in right. Richie Martin stepped to the plate and cranked a double to left-center, scoring Reed from second and tying the game at 1-1 – but that would be all for either offense, forcing the game into extras once again.
This time around it would be quick and rather intriguing. Reed ripped a single up the middle, later stealing second on a slash play call with Martin at the plate, who would go on to lay down a beautiful bunt towards first and beat out the play. Casey Turgeon followed and was intentionally walked, bringing Zack Powers to the plate with the bases juiced and no outs. David Mahoney was brought out of the bullpen for UConn, but on his first pitch, he plunked Powers on the hip and allowed Reed to score for the game-winning run.
A rather unconventional way to grab the victory, but a victory it was nonetheless.
“There are signs, there are a lot of positives,” O’Sullivan said. “Let’s face it, everybody feels good about their game when they’re hitting, that’s the way it works. I know the nature of the game and I know how these kids think, but the offense will come around. I’ve seen them play in the fall and I’ve seen them play in the spring, I’ve seen them. It’s not like I didn’t see signs of us not hitting, I felt good about it. Like I said, we’ll continue to work on it and stay positive.”
Positivity often pays big dividends and it appeared the Gators would reap the rewards on Sunday, as the bats shook off the rust and came alive.
Florida Gators Baseball - Notes of Interest
• Florida pitching combined for a season-high 16 strikeouts, as all eight pitchers recorded at least one strikeout
• Speaking of fanning batters, A.J. Puk (Fr, LHP) struck out seven batters, matching the season-high for a starting pitcher (Logan Shore fanned seven against Florida Gulf Coast on February 27 earlier this season)
• The Florida bullpen has been hard at work this season, as Danny Young (So, LHP) made his team-high ninth appearance, while Eric Hanhold (So, RHP), Ryan Harris (Jr, RHP), and Kirby Snead (Fr, LHP) each made their eighth
• Saturday afternoon was a day of firsts for Buddy Reed (Fr, CF), who grabbed his first multi-hit game (2-for-4), extra-base hit (2B), and stolen base
Kevin O’Sullivan wanted to see more aggressive at-bats out of his offense, and Sunday proved to be the day for an offensive outbreak for the Gators, as they came out of the gate aggressive and ready to hit.
Richie Martin jumped on a 1-0 pitch to start the game, ripping a single to right-center. Casey Turgeon followed by taking a first pitch swing, driving the ball down the right field line and plating Martin. After advancing to third on Peter Alonso’s groundout to second, Turgeon came around to score on a sac fly by Taylor Gushue, evening the score at 2-2.
The Gators took the outright lead on another sac fly from Gushue in the third, but the Huskies responded in the top of the fourth to tie it up at 3-3. With the bases loaded in the fifth, Martin walked with the bases loaded, plating John Sternagel for the 4-3 lead, but once again, the Gators would lose the lead on a two-run sixth from the Huskies.
After Peter Alonso sent a fly ball to center for the first out of the ninth, a comeback looked bleak for the Gators. However, Gushue stepped into the box and launched a 1-0 pitch over the left field bleachers for a solo shot, tying the ball game at 5-5 and ultimately sending the game into extras for the third consecutive day.
The Huskies threatened in the top of the tenth, loading the bases with just one out. Bobby Poyner was called on to close out the inning and did so with conviction, grabbing a strikeout and a fly ball to center to end the inning amidst a roaring display of enthusiasm from the Gators’ dugout.
Josh Tobias led off the bottom of the frame with a triple to deep left-center. After Buddy Reed lined out to second and Martin drew a walk, Turgeon approached the plate with the chance of winning it for the Gators once again. Turgeon squeezed a bunt down the line towards first, plating Tobias for the game-winner.
“Really pleased with how we played this weekend and how we fought back,” O’Sullivan said. “Obviously today was not as clean, but once again we used a bunch of guys, obviously some guys that had thrown multiple days in a row, I didn’t want to leave them out there too long, a lot of guys pitch counts were down. It seemed like everybody kind of picked each other up. Casey had a great weekend at the plate. I think today was our best offensive day of the year to be honest with you.”
Florida Gators Baseball - Notes of Interest
• Florida’s sweep of Connecticut marks their first three-game weekend sweep since April 11-13, 2013 when they took all three contests from South Carolina
• Four pitchers made appearances in all three games: Eric Hanhold, Ryan Harris, Bobby Poyner (Jr, LHP), and Kirby Snead
• Taylor Gushue (Jr, C) earned his third multi-RBI game of the season, as he drove in three runs on Sunday to increase his season total to a team-leading 13 RBI
• Speaking of Gushue he also leads the team in home runs, having blasted his second of the year in the bottom of the ninth on Sunday – in fact, his two long balls serve as the lone two for the Gators this season
• Richie Martin notched his team-leading eighth multi-hit game of the season on a bunt single in the third, while Casey Turgeon notched his fifth multi-hit effort
• Turgeon collected his second walk-off hit of the weekend, this time a squeeze bunt towards first to score Josh Tobias (Jr, 3B)
• In moving to the bullpen, Poyner tossed 2.1 scoreless innings this weekend, earning credit for 2 of 3 victories
The Gators have much to be optimistic about moving forward, especially if Sunday serves as a sign of things to come. The name of the game for the weekend was pitching, as the Florida pitching staff did their job and turned in stout outings – from a pair of strong starts from Logan Shore and A.J. Puk to an impressive bullpen attack led by their newest member, Bobby Poyner, who worked a combined 2 1/3 scoreless innings over all three contests, earning two of three victories in the process.
Danny Young and Kirby Snead (who utilizes a very effective low angle delivery) have been key lefty options, as Young can work long relief while Snead is a situational guy who can pound the zone with strikes and close out the inning. Eric Hanhold, Ryan Harris, and Aaron Rhodes have been phenomenal in long relief roles, as the three have combined to pitch 39.1 innings this season and have surrendered just six runs.
On offense, bats are getting hot. Turgeon is coming off of a strong weekend at the plate, having gone 6-for-11 with 3 RBI (two of which were game-winners) while drawing five walks. After starting the season 0-for-14, Tobias has been one of the more potent bats for the Gators over the past six games, a stretch that has seen the junior third baseman go 9-for-22, including a 5-for-11 showing against the Huskies this weekend.
With pitching looking as reliable as it has been this season and the changing tide at the plate, the Gators have the ability to turn in a strong season down the stretch – but they’ll need to continue working on all facets, as there is still plenty of room for improvement, as this team has a high ceiling in terms of both veteran and freshman talent. Nonetheless, this weekend’s three-game sweep of Connecticut should serve as a big motivator for the Gators as they prepare for their SEC opener against Arkansas this coming weekend at McKethan Stadium.