Amid the heavy clouds, a little rain must fall.
But neither the rain nor the other three teams in the Gainesville Regional could stop the nation’s #1 team.
Following a 9-3 win over Bethune Cookman, a 6-5 win over Connecticut and a 10-1 beatdown of Georgia Tech, the Gators are through to their sixth Super Regional since 2009. Their opponent? Archrival Florida State, a team the Gators swept in dominating fashion in both the 2015 Super Regionals and the 2016 regular season.
The Gators got the weekend started in pretty much the exact way fans expected- by dominating the overmatched BCU Wildcats, thanks in large part to Logan Shore’s dominant performance on the mound. Peter Alonso wasted no time reclaiming his role as the team’s big bat, crushing two homers that probably traveled 460 feet each. Both blasts bounced off the upper branches of the trees beyond the outfield walls, suggesting that maybe, just maybe, his once broken hand has healed fine.
There was the faintest, slightest glimmer of concern after Bethune Cookman trimmed Florida’s 7-1 lead down to 7-3 in the 7th, but that was followed up by the Wildcats loading the bases on two walks and a hit batter, an RBI single by Nelson Maldonado and then a sacrifice fly by Danny Reyes in the bottom half of that inning. That was all the scoring Florida needed in a 9-3 win. Make no mistake. This game was never in danger.
But the second game was. As anticipated, Connecticut saved ace Anthony Kay for Florida, and the Gators countered with AJ Puk. And as anticipated, this led to a close, nerve-inducing game. The surprise was that this game turned into an offensive fireworks show. UConn’s Bobby Melley sent a mistake pitch from Puk into orbit to put the Huskies up 1-0 in the first, and the score remained that way until Reyes responded with an opposite field homer to tie the score in the third. Buddy Reed singled home Dalton Guthrie later in the inning to make it 2-1, and then UConn tied it up in the bottom half of the inning.
Then things really got fun. Maldonado gave Florida the lead back with an RBI single into left field, and then Alonso blasted his third homer of the Gainesville Regional with Guthrie aboard to make it 5-2. So that seemed like the end of things. Florida leads UConn 5-2, they’ve got the projected #1 pick in the MLB Draft in Puk on the mound, game over, right?
Except Puk, with one of the nation’s most filthy arsenal of pitches, picked this night to lose his control. Puk’s fifth inning went as follows: double, hit by pitch, single, single, flyout, and finally, a wild pitch, at which point Kevin O’Sullivan had seen enough and replaced Puk with Dane Dunning. Dunning did a great job putting out the fire, but the mess Puk started tied the game at 5.
Insert Jonathan India.
#AirIndia! And the #Gators take a 6-5 lead in the 8th!!! https://t.co/tk8w4y20B4
— InAllKindsOfWeather.com (@AllKindsWeather) June 5, 2016
That gave Florida the lead for keeps. Dunning just kept right on mowing down Husky after Husky, eventually turning it over to closer Shaun Anderson to finish the deal. And he did. 6-5, Gators win, bring on Georgia Tech.
Truth be told, the Yellow Jackets were doomed before they ever took the field. GT was playing their second game of the day and their fourth in three days, and for all intents and purposes, were out of pitchers. And it showed as the Gators scored three runs in the fifth and four more in the sixth en route to a 10-1 victory. Meanwhile, the Gators tossed out Alex Faedo, who turned in an absolute gem of an effort. In eight innings, Faedo allowed just four hits, striking out ten along the way.
That’s a boring paragraph to describe a game in which the Gators advanced to the equivalent of the Sweet 16, I know. That’s because this is the most noteworthy moment of the game, for no reason other than comedic relief:
This runner was called safe. Granted, Florida is beating Georgia Tech 10-0, but come on. Hire better officials @NCAA pic.twitter.com/4IA71imHYb
— InAllKindsOfWeather.com (@AllKindsWeather) June 6, 2016
That blunderfully missed call cost Florida what would have been their fourth ever shutout in a Regional Final. But it’s academic at this point; who really cares?
The Gators didn’t really do anything to diminish the hopes that they’ll bring home a title this year. That’s just my way of saying that they did everything to validate it. They clobbered inferior opponents (BCU and GT), fought through adversity, and got timely hits late in close games, and hit the ball hard off of a great pitcher (UConn, India, and Kay). Oh yeah, and the team that garnered questions during their run to the SEC Championship Game without their best hitter got said best hitter back, and he proved to be all he was ever advertised to be and more.
Now Florida is matched up with FSU, in a rematch of the 2005 and 2015 Super Regionals. As you may recall, Florida has won five straight over FSU, including both games in last year’s Super Regional and all three regular season games this year. That’s all worth repeating, somewhat with the intention of rubbing it into any FSU fan bored enough to read this, but more with the intent to convey just how close the Gators are to returning to Omaha.
By the same token, though, it’s far from a guarantee that Florida will win. FSU’s pitching has been shaky, but their bats have been brilliant lately, scoring a ridiculous 56 runs in their last four games dating back to the ACC Championship Game. Say what you want about the pitchers they’ve faced against their Regional patsies and in an all-hands-on-deck scenario in an 18-13 loss in the ACC Title Game, but their lineup consists of several big time hitters, such as John Sansone, Quincy Neiporte, Taylor Walls, Cal Raleigh and Dylan Busby, each of whom are hitting above .300 for the year.
So everything is as it should be. Florida-FSU, for a spot in the College World Series. The only downside is that we have to wait four more days.