Two quick outs and a walk to JJ Schwarz set the stage. It had been 27 days since a Jordan Sheffield fastball struck Pete Alonso in the left hand, fracturing his fifth metacarpal.
“Initially when I broke it I thought I wasn’t going to be able to play as a Gator again,” Alonso said. “Having that thought, it’s just kind of scary.”
27 days that Alonso had to sit back and watch the Gators just miss out on winning the SEC with a 1-2 finish to the season in Baton Rouge. Alonso sat in the stands in Hoover, again helpless as the Gators came up just short again, this time in the SEC Tournament Championship Game to Texas A&M.
He returned Friday night for the Gainesville Regional and deposited an 0-1 fastball high into the night, clearing everything in left-center and almost taking out a tree in the process. Alonso would go 3-4 in his return with three runs, three RBI and two home runs, quite the welcome back party, as the Gators took down Bethune-Cookman 9-3.
“Getting Pete back, hitting two homers and that’s kinda how baseball works,” Kevin O’Sullivan said. “It’s kind of weird. The guy’s been out for three weeks and hits two homers; gives us a spark.”
Florida would duplicate that two-run output in the first inning in each of the next two frames as well. Danny Reyes walked and stole second before Buddy Reed drew a walk to give the Gators two runners. Dalton Guthrie doubled down the left field line to plate Reyes and Reed scored on JJ Schwarz’s groundout to first base two pitches later. In the third inning Deacon Liput hit a two-out double to left-center and advanced to third when Nelson Maldonado reached on a fielding error. Reyes drove both of them home with a triple to center field, to continue the torrid streak the freshman has been on since he was inserted into the starting lineup.
“It’s definitely been a long year for me,” Reyes, who had two hits on the season before the SEC Tournament, said. “Going out there and just proving to myself that I can compete at this level and getting the opportunity to play gives me a lot of confidence.”
Bethune Cookman finally got to Shore in the fourth inning. Jameel Edeny singled home Danny Rodriguez with two outs to cut into Florida’s lead. Alonso answered with his second home run of the game, off of that same tree that fell victim to his first home run ball in the first inning beyond the wall in left-center.
Shore didn’t have his best stuff on Friday night but lasted into the seventh inning, a Nate Sterijevski RBI triple ending Shore’s outing. Freshman Brady Singer replaced him on the mound, walked a guy and gave up a RBI single before getting the hook in favor of Kirby Snead. The junior left-hander has been in a rut of late, but got his man on Friday and gave way to Dane Dunning. Dunning needed just 14 pitches to get out of the jam in the seventh and throw a clean eighth inning. Michael Byrne came out to close the ninth and did just that.
“Obviously the most important thing in a Regional is to win game win,” Kevin O’sullivan said. “We were able to do that and keep Dane Dunning’s pitch count down so we could stretch him out tomorrow, if needed.”
Florida advances to play Connecticut on Saturday at 6 p.m. ET. Bethune Cookman and Georgia Tech will meet at noon, with the winner staying to play another day and the loser packing their bags for home.
Florida will throw A.J. Puk against UCONN’s Anthony Kay in a matchup of soon-to-be Major Leaguers.
“We’re fully aware of the pitcher we’re facing tomorrow, Anthony Kay, he played with four of our guys this past summer on the USA team,” O’Sullivan said. “It will be like facing another SEC starter, Friday Saturday starter in our league.”