Mike Rivera jumped to his feet, threw Shaun Anderson’s slider into the air and the Florida Gators dugout erupted when Florida State senior John Sansone swung at strike three in the bottom of the ninth, sealing a 7-0 win.
For the fifth time in the last seven years under Kevin O’Sullivan, the Gators are heading to Omaha.
“I couldn’t be more proud of the way they’ve handled the expectations from a team standpoint, and how selfless they were individually,” O’Sullivan said after the game. “I’m just proud that we have an opportunity to go back out to Omaha and have these guys have that experience again.”
The scene was emotional. Buddy Reed wiped away tears in the batter’s box before his final at bat in the eighth inning, “I was kind of swinging at everything,” he said following the game. The 48th overall pick in the MLB Draft gathered his team together in front of the dugout before they took the field in the ninth.
“I told all the guys I loved them,” Reed said. “I told Sully I love him. After all that we’ve been through this year and the three years I’ve been here, it’s something special that means a lot to me.”
This weekend was one for goodbyes. The junior class will go down as one of the best in school history. Six were drafted with the first 106 picks in the Draft before the Super Regional and eight overall. Logan Shore, A.J. Puk, Dane Dunning, Reed, Shaun Anderson, Pete Alonso and the rest of the draftees likely took their last swings, threw their last pitches and walked off the field at McKethan Stadium one more time on Monday night.
Monday night almost didn’t happen. Drew Carlton shoved a zero down Florida’s throat on Saturday, giving the Noles a 1-0 series lead. The Gators had only lost back-to-back games three times in 2016 and they flipped a switch on Sunday.
“Obviously in this situation we lost the first and had to come back and win two,” Reed said. “The message was let loose, play hard, have fun. Don’t take it for granted.”
A.J. Puk, the sixth overall pick in the MLB Draft drew the start and quickly found trouble. The lefty threw eight balls in his first 10 pitches, walking two. Puk bounced back with two strikeouts and got Dylan Busby to line out softly to second base.
Sophomore Dalton Guthrie (3-5 on the night) singled to start the bottom of the inning. Guthrie advanced to third on a Sansone and scored on a wild pitch. Pete Alonso doubled the lead with a solo home run in the third inning. The home run was Alonso’s team-leading 13th of the season and fourth of the NCAA Tournament. The 2-0 lead carried through the fourth inning.
Guthrie picked up his third single of the night, followed by another Reed single and a Pete Alonso hit by pitch to load the bases. That brought JJ Schwarz to the plate to face Jim Voyles. Schwarz had been mired in a power outage, not having hit a home run in 20 games, probably the longest drought of the slugger’s entire life. Schwarz watched a fastball low and then unleashed on a 1-0 slider.
“I knew he was going to throw a slider eventually, Schwarz said. “That’s his best pitch. I got one over the plate, one that I liked and I just put a good swing on it.”
Schwarz pumped his fist, shouted toward his teammates as they streamed out of both entrances to the dugout and overflowed over the fence to greet him at the plate. The 6-0 cushion was more than enough. Dane Dunning threw 4.1 innings of shutout ball, striking out five on his way to a win.
Florida returns to Omaha, where they finished third last season. “This group, from day one, has thought about a National Championship,” O’Sullivan said.
“I’m excited for this trip to Omaha,” Reed said, “We’ve got a lot of unfinished business to take care of.”