There’s something about your loathed rival putting you in a chokehold and ending your season.
For the University of Miami, that unkind gesture by the Florida Gators has gotten tiring. But because it’s still February, the only partial payback the Hurricanes could deliver would be by winning the biggest showdown in college baseball this weekend: No. 1 Florida at No. 6 Miami.
The teams have a combined 9-0 record, meaning at least one of the two will have its first blemish of 2016.
“We’re going into the game with a chip on our shoulder,’’ said Thomas Woodrey, UM’s left-handed senior (1-0, 1.80 ERA) starter in Friday’s 7 p.m. opener of the three-game series. “They finished us off last year, and we have to use that as motivation going into this weekend.”
Last June, Florida (5-0) eliminated Miami (4-0) from the College World Series in Omaha, Nebraska. Both of UM’s losses in the CWS were to the Gators, and both were ugly — the first one 15-3 and the second 10-2.
Since 2005, UF has gone 29-12 against UM in a series that began in 1940.
In 2009, ’10 and ’11, the Gators ended UM’s season in the regional or super regional round of the NCAA tournament.
But this year, “Florida probably has the best club that they’ve ever had in their history,’’ UM coach Jim Morris said. “I think they’re loaded.”
UF returns much of its roster that finished 52-18 in 2015 and third in the College World Series. The Gators pitching staff is outstanding, with all three weekend starters potential high-round draft picks. Right-handed junior Logan Shore (1-0, 1.80) will start Friday, followed by 6-7, 230-pound junior A.J. Puk, who throws a 97-mph fastball and is projected to possibly go No. 1 overall in the draft. Puk pitched four innings against Florida Gulf Coast last Saturday, allowing four runs — all unearned — on four hits and a walk. He struck out six.
Right-handed sophomore Alex Faedo (1-0, 1.59) is another big Gator at 6-5 and 220 pounds, and is expected to pitch Sunday.
Offensively, the Gators are led by Louisville Slugger Co-Freshman of the Year JJ Schwarz, who hit .332 with 73 RBI in 2015, but has gotten off to a slow start with a .231 average.
The Gators outscored Florida Gulf Coast and Eastern Michigan by a combined score of 44-20, with 19 extra-base hits (12 doubles, four triples and three home runs).
Both teams are coming off shaky performances against lesser-regarded opponents. Florida trailed Eastern Michigan by three runs going into the bottom of the eighth Wednesday night but came back to win 8-7 on a catcher’s interference call with the bases loaded in the ninth.
The Canes stranded a school-record 22 runners Wednesday against St. Thomas University, finally winning 7-6 in the 10th on a St. Thomas error.
“We’re fighters,’’ Woodrey said. “You saw [Wednesday] night. We definitely didn’t play our best game by any means. But we didn’t give up. This team is very close and together. We have one goal in mind, and it’s to win.”
UM junior right fielder Willie Abreu, hitting .385 with an eye-popping .692 slugging percentage, grew up going to games at Mark Light Field and rooting against the Gators whenever he could.
“The intensity doesn’t change,’’ Abreu said. “We want to beat them just as bad as we always have. It’s a great rivalry, and it’s going to be a great weekend. Everybody is super excited.’’
After Woodrey throws in the opener, UM will start left-handed sophomore Michael Mediavilla (1-0, 0.00) at 7 p.m. Saturday and left-handed junior Danny Garcia (1-0, 0.00) in the 1 p.m. Sunday finale.
“Very talented team,’’ Woodrey said. “You have to give them a lot of respect. It’s going to be a challenge, but it’s going to be a fun challenge.”
UM left field Jacob Heyward wasn’t quite as polite.
“We want to go out here and kick their butts,’’ Heyward said Thursday. “That’s all it’s about.”