Jonathan India may be a freshman on paper, but after playing 61 games this season, Kevin O’Sullivan doesn’t consider him a rookie anymore.
India stepped up to the plate in the top of the eighth inning of a 5-5 game. He worked the count in his favor, 2-1, and sat dead red, waiting for a fastball. India got what he was looking for, lofting a ball high into the night towards the left field wall. Off the bat it looked like a no-doubt dinger, but the winds tried its best to keep the ball in play before it landed just over the blue padding, giving Florida a 6-5 lead, one that would hold on to be final.
“I was just looking for a fastball,” India said. “He was actually throwing a lot of sliders early to hitters before me, but I was just sitting dead red fastball and I got my pitch.”
Florida matches A.J. Puk against Connecticut’s Anthony Kay, two sure-fire first round picks in the MLB Draft next week. Kay needed just six pitches to dispatch the Gators’ in the first and Puk seemed to follow suit, mowing down the first two he faced on nine pitches. Bobby Melley flipped the script when he turned around a 96 MPH fastball, giving it a new home on Stadium road behind the wall in right field.
Florida tied the game in the third when Danny Reyes hit his first career home run down the right field line. The hit was Reyes’ ninth in 18 at bats since he was plugged into the starting lineup in the SEC Tournament.
Dalton Guthrie followed the home run up with an infield single. When the throw trickled away from Melley at first, Guthrie looked up, saw nobody covering second and took off, sliding in safe. Buddy Reed hit a hot shot at the second baseman, who couldn’t handle it and Guthrie raced 180 feet home to take the lead.
The lead didn’t last long. An uncharacteristic error from Reed in center, a single and a fielder’s choice knotted the game back up, something that would become a theme on Saturday night.
“They got to us first, in the first inning,” O’Sullivan said. “We took the lead, they answered back, we took the lead, and they answered back. A very, very tenacious group and they battled, but our guys did too.”
Florida scored the next three runs of the game. Nelson Maldonado drove in Mike Rivera with a single in the fourth inning and Pete Alonso hit his third home run of the Regional, a two-run shot to left field, in the fifth inning.
Then Puk unraveled.
Jon Toppa led the bottom of the sixth off with a double and Puk responded by hitting Zac Susi. Tyler Gnesda loaded the bases with a single to center and the Huskies trimmed the lead by one when Hill drove Toppa in with another single. After an out Susi scored on a wild pitch and that was all she wrote for the Gators’ lefty. Puk received a standing ovation in what will be one of his final appearances at McKethan Stadium. Dane Dunning replaced Puk and gave up one more run, tying the game at five, on a sacrifice fly.
Dunning was lights out the rest of the way. The junior threw 3.2 innings, allowing one hit, walking one, while striking out five and holding the Huskies scoreless. India’s home run in the top of the eighth gave Florida a lead and Shaun Anderson knows what to do with a lead.
Anderson entered the game in the bottom of the ninth and quickly worked a perfect frame to earn his 13th save of the season — tying the school record.
The win puts Florida into the championship game of the Gainesville Regional. Georgia Tech and UConn will play Sunday at noon, with the winner advancing to play the Gators and Alex Faedo at 6 pm ET. The Gators need to win just one more game to advance to a Super Regional and would need to lose twice in order to be eliminated.