Puk's relief, pinch hit clinch series at Alabama

Florida freshman A.J. Puk (10) pitched 2 2/3 innings of scoreless relief in the Gators' 4-3 win over Alabama at Sewell-Thomas Stadium in Tuscaloosa, Ala., on Saturday.(Erin Nelson/The Tuscaloosa News)

Published: Saturday, May 3, 2014 at 8:00 p.m.
Last Modified: Saturday, May 3, 2014 at 8:19 p.m.

TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — The strength of Florida's team isn't a few names, it's in a multitude of options.

On Saturday, it was A.J. Puk's turn to loom large.

The freshman not only earned the victory with 2 2/3 innings of scoreless relief on the mound, he picked up a bat and delivered the pinch-hit, go-ahead RBI single in the sixth inning of the Gators' 4-3 win over Alabama at Sewell-Thomas Stadium.

Entering the game as Florida trailed 3-1, Puk put out the fire in the Crimson Tide's big third inning — the only inning Alabama would score runs — and calmed the waters in the fourth and fifth, enough to set up the comeback.

Florida (32-15, 17-6 SEC) clawed back to tie it at 3-3, then Puk stepped to the plate in the sixth and drilled an RBI single to left center that made it 4-3.

“Today was big for a lot of reasons,” Florida coach Kevin O'Sullivan said. “No. 1 obviously we won the series, but some of these freshmen grew up today. Puk grew up today.”

Rated the No. 16 freshman prospect in the nation by Baseball America, Puk headlined a stingy freshman relief contingent that kept Alabama's bats at bay. Puk was followed by Dane Dunning's 2 2/3 scoreless innings, and when Alabama (30-17, 13-10 SEC) had its best late-inning threat of the game — a runner in scoring position in the eighth — O'Sullivan brought in the left-handed Kirby Snead, who struck out Alabama lefty Georgie Salem to evade the threat.

For a team that lacks gaudy statistics, an important one improved on Saturday: Florida moved to 23-0 when leading after seven innings.

“Dane Dunning especially grew up and threw the ball good, and Kirby Snead — that's a heck of a situation to be in,” O'Sullivan said. “We had three freshmen come in and do a really nice job.”

To get that chance, Florida had to overcome the early two-run deficit. Casey Turgeon's RBI double cut Alabama's lead to 3-2 in the fifth, then Taylor Gushue hit a solo home run off the scoreboard to lead off the sixth.

That set up Puk's opportunity.

Once the freshmen compiled 5 2/3 innings of stellar relief, Ryan Harris earned the save with a perfect ninth inning.

“It's been a weird year, we've got seven different guys with saves,” Florida coach Kevin O'Sullivan said. “It's just been one of those years. Our strength is our depth and matchups. It's been fun that way.”

Florida clinched its fourth straight SEC series win, extended its SEC winning streak to 10 games and became the first team to knock off Alabama in a series in Tuscaloosa this season.

The Gators remain two games clear of SEC West leader Ole Miss for the overall conference lead with seven league games to play. Florida will try to complete the sweep of the Crimson Tide at 3:05 p.m. on Sunday.

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