Arguably the best junior class in Florida Gators baseball history played their final innings at McKethan Stadium this past weekend. Following the MLB Draft a majority of the junior class will be taking their talents to the MLB after this season.
Emotions ran high and tears were shed as reality began to set in. Buddy Reed gathered the team outside the dugout to express his love for them before stepping on the field one last time Monday night.
Reed did not live up to the high offensive expectations that were set for him coming into this season, batting only .261, but his speed has made up for his struggles at the plate. He leads the Gators in runs scored (56), triples (6), and stolen bases (24).
Reed had a quiet Super Regional, with four hits and three runs scored on the weekend, but he stole everyone’s attention when he stepped into the box for the final time at McKethan Stadium with tears in his eyes, knowing this would be his final at bat on the field he’s spent countless hours on the last three years of his life. His emotions became even more evident as he took the field for the final time in the top of the ninth inning. With tears now rolling down his face, he had to take a moment to gather himself in center field before the inning began.
“That was my last time to play at the Mac,” Reed said after the game. “It’s something really special, it means a lot to me.”
After being shut down offensively in game one, Pete Alonso got back in his zone at the plate and got the offense rolling for the Gators in games two and three. His RBI double off the left field fence in the first inning of game two scored the first Florida run of the series. That was one of three doubles scorched by Alonso on the night. He hit a no-doubt solo shot over the left field bleachers to score the Gators’ second run of the game in game three. Alonso was 5-11 (.455), with four runs scored, and three RBI’s this weekend. Alonso has seemingly been the spark for Florida’s offense all year, especially since returning from a hand injury that kept him out of the lineup for 27 days. Since his return, he is batting .520 and has accounted for 17-of-37 runs scored by Florida in the last six games.
Pitching was the story of all three games this weekend, with every game ending in a shutout. The junior pitchers performed well, as usual, but the feelings were bittersweet as each of them toed the rubber for the final time in Gainesville.
Logan Shore, A.J. Puk, Dane Dunning, Shaun Anderson, and Kirby Snead have been leaders on the Florida pitching staff and have earned the Gators the title of the best pitching staff in college baseball this season.
Puk showed some anxiety in his final start at McKethan Stadium, but was able to work through two jams and did not allow a run in his 3.2 innings in game three. His strikeout and walk totals were even at six.
After throwing 2.1 innings Saturday night, Dunning came in again on Monday night in relief of Puk. He threw 4.1 beautiful shutout innings to get the win against FSU. He scattered a few base hits, but never allowed more than one runner on base in a single inning. Dunning has been the unsung hero of the Florida pitching staff all season long.
Anderson closed out games two and three. There is always a sense of confidence that the game is in the bag when Anderson enters. He walked one batter before recording three quick outs to propel the Gators to a game three. He sat the Noles down 1-2-3 in his final appearance, securing a trip to Omaha.
Shore delivered one of the best performances of his career in game two, allowing only four batters to reach base in eight innings of work. In an absolutely dominating performance, Shore got his 12th win of the season and 17th consecutive win, extending his own school record.
Shore received a standing ovation from an emotional Gator crowd as he ran to the mound for the final time at home. After struggling a little in the eighth inning, everyone expected Shore’s night would be done, but Kevin O’Sullivan believed after the performance he had given, he deserved a chance to finish out the game. After facing one batter in the ninth inning, Anderson came in for Shore. The crowd erupted once again as Shore headed to the dugout, one last time.
“I’m fortunate that Sully let me go out there and experience that,” said Shore. “That’s something I’ll remember for the rest of my life.”
This group of juniors will never play another inning at McKethan Stadium, but they have left a legacy that will stay there for a very long time to come. With very few seniors on the roster, they have had to step up and lead a young Florida team this season.
Since their college careers began in 2014, Florida has won a SEC regular season championship (2014), a SEC Tournament Championship (2015), and has two CWS appearances (2015, 2016). They’ve complied a 144-55 (.724) record and a 59-30 (.663) conference record in three years.
These juniors now have a chance to lead their team one last time in Omaha and could bring Florida baseball its very first National Championship.