Behind a strong seven-inning start from lefty A.J. Puk, the Florida Gators cruised to an 8-2 victory over the USF Bulls in Game 3 of the NCAA Gainesville Regional on Saturday night at McKethan Stadium.
"You gotta tip your cap to their starting pitcher," said Bulls head coach Mark Kingston. "When you're left-handed and throw 97 miles per hour, you've got a good chance to win. Especially with that defense behind you."
Puk was threatened in the 1st inning and allowed the Bulls to load the bases, but also struck out the side to get out of his only trouble of the evening. He retired the last 14 Bulls he faced without much discomfort. He finished with zero runs conceded and eight strikeouts with just one walk.
Most of UF's offense came at the expense of junior starting pitcher Ryan Valdes, who conceded five runs on 10 hits in six innings that included two Gator homers; a 3rd inning two-run blast by Buddy Reed, and another two-run shot in the 4th by Harrison Bader.
USF blocked the shutout with a pair of singles by Kyle Teaf & Kevin Merrell that set up an RBI double down the left field line by Levi Borders in the 8th inning. Nik Alfonso picked up an RBI single in the bottom of the 9th to close the lead to six, but was erased attempting to stretch it into a double by the left fielder Bader.
Bulls redshirt sophomore Tommy Eveld delivered two shutout innings in the 7th and 8th, but senior right hander Jordan Stritmatter had all sorts of trouble in the 9th. The senior uncorked three wild pitches and hit a batter while conceding three insurance runs in the final frame.
The loss forces the Bulls into a quick turnaround, and USF will be back in action at 12 p.m. against FAU in an elimination game. The winner of the FAU-USF game faces the Gators at 4 p.m., and if Florida they advance to the Super Regional next weekend. If the Gators lose tomorrow, they would play the team that defeated them again on Monday at 7 p.m. with the winner advancing to the Super Regional.