Florida's Alonso taking 'playoff beard,' hot bat to Omaha

Sullivan also says A.J. Puk won't pitch early in CWS.

GAINESVILLE — Peter Alonso doesn't plan on shaving his "playoff beard" anytime soon.

Florida's first baseman has been growing it out for weeks, and given the way he's been hitting lately, there's no chance he's touching it now.

So he's taking it to the College World Series — along with one of the hottest bats in the country.

Alonso is hitting .520 (13 of 25), with four doubles, four home runs and 11 RBIs, since missing nearly a month with a broken bone in his left hand. A second-round draft pick by the New York Mets last week, the junior from Tampa has been the catalyst for Florida's offense in the NCAA baseball tournament and a big reason the Gatorsare headed to Omaha, Nebraska, for the fifth time in the last seven years.

Top-seeded Florida (52-14) begins play Sunday against Coastal Carolina (49-16), and Alonso's at-bats could again be can't-miss events.

"It seems too simple: It's just see ball, hit ball," Alonso said Wednesday. "Just letting it ride and having fun."

Alonso wasn't having much fun after getting drilled with a 96 mph fastball against Vanderbilt on May 13. He fractured his fifth metacarpal, the bone that connects the pinkie finger to the wrist, and didn't think he would play again this season.

But Alonso pushed to return to the lineup despite the risk of more damage just days before the MLB draft.

"A lot of players might've quite honestly not rushed back," coach Kevin O'Sullivan said. "He's been very selfless. ... It's a story I'll tell forever. Let's do everything we can with our hand and get back to help our team win. He put his team first before the draft."

Alonso homered in his first at-bat against Bethune-Cookman in the regional, a two-run shot that put the Gatorson the board, and added a solo homer later in the game.

He's been on a tear since, driving in 11 of the team's 37 runs in the tournament. He leads Florida in slugging percentage (1.160), on-base percentage (.571) and total bases (29) in NCAA play.

"It's crazy," O'Sullivan said. "Every time he comes to the plate, it's like everybody in the dugout gets quiet, everybody in the stands is kind of watching. It's just unexplainable. I honestly feel like every time he comes to the plate he's going to hit a home run. It's remarkable. It's a great story to come back and swing the bat like he has."

Even most of Alonso's outs have come on well-hit balls.

"That's pretty insane," said Gators shortstop Dalton Guthrie.

Added right-hander Logan Shore: "The kid is on fire. I don't know how he's doing. I know how he's doing it. He's a tremendous baseball player. But to come back from a hand injury like that ... just shows what kind of teammate he is and how much he wants to win it."

After losing two one-run games to eventual national champion Virginia last year in Omaha, the Gators are looking for redemption in their return trip. Florida has been ranked No. 1 for most of the season, had six players drafted in the top 108 picks and is the trendy pick to win it all.

Having Alonso back in the lineup — and hitting like he's been doing — surely helps Florida's chances. Or maybe it's the beard.

"It's incredible to go back," Alonso said. "I mean that's an extremely, extremely special place. That's been the goal all year. As a kid growing up, you just dream to go there once. To go there twice is kind of unthinkable in the grand scheme of things. It's an absolutely incredible opportunity, and we're going to make the most of it."

A.J. PUK WON'T PITCH EARLY IN CWS

Florida left-hander A.J. Puk, the sixth overall pick in the Major League Baseball draft last week, will have to wait to get back on the mound.

Coach Kevin O'Sullivan said Wednesday that right-handers Logan Shore and Alex Faedo will pitch Florida's first two games in Omaha, Nebraska. Shore will start Florida's opener Sunday against Coastal Carolina.

O'Sullivan says the 6-foot-7 Puk "will pitch in Omaha if we're fortunate to stay out there for a while." So Puk likely will start Florida's third game, assuming the top-seeded Gators (52-14) win one of their first two in the double-elimination tournament.

Puk (2-3, 3.05 ERA), drafted by the Oakland Athletics, was less than impressive in his two starts in the NCAA baseball tournament. He gave up five hits and four earned runs in 4 1/3 innings against UConn on June 4, and then walked six and hit a batter in 3 2/3 scoreless innings Monday. The Gators won both games.

Puk's last victory came April 14, and he's lasted less than five innings in four of his last six outings.

"There's not a whole lot to say," O'Sullivan said. "At the end of the day, what I've told him and continue to tell him (is) we will not win a national championship without him having a part in this thing. For me, you're always one start away from getting right back where you want to be. ... That's really the mindset you have to have.

"It's not an easy game. He's going to throw good, and I really believe that. I'm not just saying that to kind of motivate him. I do believe that when he gets the ball again, he's going to throw ball good. I believe that."

 

 

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