University of Miami

Once again, UM baseball tries to shake nightmare recent past against the Gators

UF’s Dalton Guthrie is tagged out by UM infielder Edgar Michelangeli during the February, 2016 regular-season series at Mark Light Field. On Fri., Feb. 24, 2017, UM faces the No. 2 Gators at McKethan Stadium in Gainesville.
UF’s Dalton Guthrie is tagged out by UM infielder Edgar Michelangeli during the February, 2016 regular-season series at Mark Light Field. On Fri., Feb. 24, 2017, UM faces the No. 2 Gators at McKethan Stadium in Gainesville. adiaz@miamiherald.com

Count Chris Barr as the Hurricane who saved the University of Miami from getting no-hit in a baseball game last February for the first time in nearly 52 years — at the time, 3,181 consecutive games in which the Canes got at least one hit.

“Honestly, I had no idea,’’ said the UM first baseman on Thursday of his “little bloop hit’’ to left field in the bottom of the ninth that helped spark a three-run rally in a losing effort. “Alex Faedo is a really good pitcher.’’

If Barr and his teammates can string together several more hits this weekend in Gainesville, without the sloppiness of their last game against Rutgers, the Hurricanes have a decent chance of returning to Coral Gables happy.

Miami (2-1), ranked as high as No. 8 by Collegiate Baseball, meets the star-studded No. 2 Florida Gators (3-1) in Gainesville for a three-game series that begins at 6:30 p.m. Friday, continues at 6:30 p.m. Saturday and concludes at 1 p.m. Sunday.

The Gators have one of the strongest pitching staffs in the nation, beginning with Friday starter Faedo, a 6-5, 220-pound, right-handed junior who was 13-3 with a 3.18 ERA last season.

UM baseball coach Jim Morris reflects on Florida Gators minutes before boarding bus to Gainesville for weekend series.

“He’s as good as anybody we’ll face in college this year,’’ said UM coach Jim Morris, just minutes before boarding a bus headed for UF.

In the Gators’ opener against William & Mary, Faedo, nonetheless, was responsible for all four runs allowed in their 5-4 victory.

“I need to make sure I take a little breath and slow the game down,’’ Faedo said Thursday. “I’ll just learn from my mistakes and bounce back this week.”

The Gators have been a nightmare for the Canes for several years. Since 2005, UF has gone 31-13 against UM in a series that began in 1940 and the Canes still lead 128-116-1.

In 2009, ’10 and ’11, the Gators ended UM’s season in the regional or super-regional round of the NCAA tournament. In 2015, UF beat UM twice in the College World Series.

Last year, Miami won just one of three games played at Mark Light Field.

Now, the Canes return to Gainesville trying to recoup their confidence after committing six errors last Sunday in a 17-6 loss to Rutgers.

Miami first baseman Chris Barr says the Canes need to take it "one pitch at a time" this weekend against the No. 2 Gators.

UF is coming off a 3-2 walk-off loss to Jacksonville on Tuesday night.

“It hasn’t been much of a rivalry because they’ve taken it to us the last few years,’’ said UM’s Johnny Ruiz, whose bases-clearing double in the aforementioned final game of the 2016 series helped the Canes avoid a shutout. “There’s no animosity, and we definitely respect them.

“Hopefully, there will be some close games this weekend.”

Miami right-handed junior Jesse Lepore (1-0, 0.00 ERA) will make his second start of 2017 with an 11-0 career record. Lepore is from Beverly Hills, Florida, “about 45 minutes away from Gainesville,’’ he said.

“It’s a great baseball environment,’’ Lepore said. “You definitely feed off all the energy there.’’

Gators coach Kevin O’Sullivan, like Morris, knows the early season series between the perennial powers will be a good indicator of the challenges each program must address as the season progresses.

“You always want to play some good people early so you can kind of gauge where your team is at — maybe see where you’re deficient in some areas,” O’Sullivan said.

“I always enjoy playing Miami because if you don’t play well, you’re going to get exposed. It kind of ramps things up a little bit. You had opening weekend last weekend, but obviously this one is a little bit different because of the intensity of the rivalry.”

Ruiz thinks UM’s fresh faces — five of the eight position players are newcomers — could be a plus this weekend.

“It cleans the slate a little bit,’’ he said. “Several of them have never played UF. Hopefully, they get to make a name for themselves by starting a winning streak.”

Said Barr: “Our rookies will probably get some jitters the first time they step on the field. The fans there will get on you, but the best way to keep them quiet is by winning.’’

Miami Herald sportswriter Jordan McPherson contributed to this report.

UM Baseball at UF

When/where: 6:30 p.m. Friday, 6:30 p.m. Saturday and 1 p.m. Sunday at McKethan Stadium in Gainesville.

Radio/online: WVUM-FM in Miami/ WatchEspn.com.

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