Nelson Maldonado’s second home run in four days gave the No. 1 Florida Gators (18-1) a lead and Pete Alonso’s two-run shot an inning later provided the exclamation point in the Gators’ 6-0 win over No. 11 Florida State (13-4). This was Florida’s first shutout of Florida State at home since March 3, 1994.
Maldonado entered last weekend’s series against Harvard hitting just 2-of-26 (.076 on the season. The freshman was inserted into the starting lineup against Harvard and his coaches’ confidence in him is paying off. Maldonado is hitting 5-14 (.357) with five runs scored, six RBI and two home runs in the past four games.
“I feel comfortable at the plate now,” he said. “I feel confident when I’m up there and today I saw a pitch up and I hit it.”
Florida starter Dane Dunning made things interesting in the first inning. After two quick outs Dunning hit Cal Raleigh and gave up a single to Quincy Nieporte before getting out of the jam with a strikeout. Florida started its first frame with two strikeouts before JJ Schwarz singled, the first of three hits for the sophomore DH on the night. Back-to-back walks loaded the bases before Mike Rivera softly popped up to first base to end the threat, but Florida was able to run Tyler Holton’s pitch count up, something that would play a factor later on.
Maldonado’s home run in the second gave Florida an early lift, as Dunning continued to get himself in and out of trouble without surrendering a run. Pete Alonso extended the Florida lead with a towering two-run shot into left field. It was Alonso’s third home run of the year.
“It doesn’t surprise me,” JJ Schwarz said about how far Alonso’s home run traveled. “If you guys were around for his BP you’d see it.”
Dunning, who worked 5.2 innings of scoreless baseball to earn his second win of the season, was aided by a strong defensive performance from Florida. The Gators turned a season high three double plays on Tuesday, two of which ended innings.
“The defense was phenomenal,” Dunning said. “They were making plays for me left and right. The defense has always been good throughout the years and I’m just hoping they can keep it going.”
The Gators added a run in the third inning when Schwarz singled home Buddy Reed — Reed returned to the lineup after missing a double header against Harvard with a shoulder injury. Florida scored two more in the fourth, not without a little controversy. Jonathan India singled home Mike Rivera with one out and the bases loaded. Dalton Guthrie then struck out on a wild pitch and Jeremy Vasquez raced home. Vasquez was called out to end the inning, which sent Kevin O’Sullivan out to argue his case. Home plate umpire Barry Chambers mistakenly thought there was a force at home, and the call was reversed, giving Florida a 6-0 advantage.
O’Sullivan turned to his bullpen in the sixth inning with Jackson Kowar. Kowar worked two innings, striking out three and giving up a lone hit before Kirby Snead finished off the eighth with a strikeout. Shaun Anderson pitched the ninth inning, allowed one hit and struck out two. Anderson’s two strikeouts gave Florida 201 on the season in just 173 innings. Florida leads the nation in strikeouts and hold an impressive 4.56 strikeout to walk ratio, third best in the country.
This is the first of three meetings between the Florida Gators and Florida State Seminoles in the Sunshine Showdown. The two teams will meet again on March 29 at The Baseball Grounds of Jacksonville and finish the series on April 12 in Tallahassee.