It’s the heart of winter — even in Florida — but the college baseball season is already heating up.
Despite chilly conditions, UF and Miami, a pair of top 10 rivals, will tangle this weekend in a pivotal early-season series.
The two powerhouse programs, jockeying for state supremacy, will kick off a three-game set Friday night at 7 in McKethan Stadium, with Hurricanes ace Andy Suarez (0-0, 3.60 ERA) taking the mound against Gators right-hander Logan Shore (1-0, 0.00 ERA).
“This is [a series] where you find out where you’re at and you get some questions answered normally when you play [Florida],” UM coach Jim Morris said.
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“It’s a challenge to go up there and win the series, but that’s what the goal is.”
Lately though, the No. 8 Hurricanes (4-1) haven’t had much luck accomplishing that objective.
Last season, Miami notched its first series win (two of three) over Florida since 2008, as the No. 6 Gators (4-0) have won 17 of the past 21 meetings.
Florida ended UM’s season three consecutive years from 2009-11, and both teams expect the intensity level to ratchet up for a meeting a week into the 2015 campaign.
“There’s definitely a lot of buildup for the series,” UF left field Harrison Bader said.
“Miami is a really big rival, so getting the chance to play them is a lot of fun. There’s always a lot more fans that come out and support us. It will be an all-out warfare, for sure.”
The matchup pits UF’s armada of arms against UM’s big bats, but both teams are more balanced than a year ago.
Bader, a junior off to a torrid start (9 for 15 with six extra-base hits and 14 RBI), has strengthened the middle of the Gators’ lineup, while the Canes’ pitching staff has been stabilized by moving lefty Thomas Woodrey into the rotation.
“I know they’re known for their offense going into this season, but their pitching is pretty good, too,” UF coach Kevin O’Sullivan said.
“They got a guy named Suarez. …. He’s one of the best left-handed pitchers in the county.”
Both teams have opened the 2015 season with offensive outbursts, with UF outscoring opponents 50-8 with seven home runs and a team ERA of 1.25.
Miami suffered a midweek loss to Florida Atlantic, but the Canes tallied 53 hits (22 extra-base knocks) in its four-game sweep against Rutgers.
Now, the two rivals are eager to measure themselves against increased competition.
“It’s a great series to start the year off,” UM third baseman David Thompson said. “They’re a good team and it’ll be a real good test for us.”
Said O’Sullivan: “Obviously the weekend is important to a lot of people. Our fans, their fans, their program, our program. But the fact of the matter is it is our fifth game of the year. We’ve got 56 of these things, so I think it’ll be a good barometer of where we’re at, but it’s certainly not going to be an indication of where we’ll be come the end of the season.”