When Miami (4-1) comes to town, there’s always a different feeling at McKethan Stadium. A Southeastern Conference series later in the season can always bring big crowds, especially when the Gators (4-0) are in the race for the conference title, but the series against the Hurricanes is always a unique environment.
Both teams are early in their season and the optimism is still high. The rivalry also goes a long way to putting people in the stands and creating an electric atmosphere, whether the game is played in Coral Gables or Gainesville. Even though Florida has won 17 of the last 21 meetings, the rivalry is still strong.
“Miami is a really big rivalry,” said Florida left fielder Harrison Bader, who leads the team with a .600 average, three home runs, seven runs scored and 14 RBI. “Getting a chance to play them is always fun. It’s going to be all-out warfare for sure.”
There’s always a balance for the coaches and players. It’s still just the second weekend of the season. The rivalry used to take place during the third weekend, but the Atlantic Coast Conference pushed up league play in recent years and forced the Florida-Miami series to move up a week. Florida coach Kevin O’Sullivan said he’d still prefer to play the series in the third weekend with more experience in the year, but the teams have no choice because of the ACC.
It’s still important for the players to know that this is only one weekend. It’ll be a nice start to NCAA Tournament résumé building for either team, the coaches know it’s just one non-conference series.
“The weekend is important to a lot of people. It’s important to their fans, our fans, their program and our program,” O’Sullivan said. “But the fact of the matter is that it’s our fifth game of the year. We’ve got 56 of these things. It’ll be a great barometer of where we’re at, but it’s certainly not an indication of where we’re going to be come the end of the season. It’s always good to play good programs like Miami.”
Friday’s game features a headline matchup between Florida right-hander Logan Shore (1-0, 0.00) and Miami left-hander Andrew Suarez (0-0, 3.60). Florida will send A.J. Puk (1-0, 1.93) to the mound on Saturday with Dane Dunning (1-0, 4.15) pitching on Sunday. Miami will start left-hander Thomas Woodrey (1-0, 3.00) on Saturday and right-hander Enrique Sosa (1-0, 0.00) will pitch on Sunday.
Suarez wasn’t sharp in his start against Rutgers last Friday, but the Gators know how good he is.
“Suarez is one of the best left-handers in the country,” O’Sullivan said. “We’ve got our hands full. Those are the types of pitchers you’ll have to beat at some point this season if you want to advance.”
All eyes will be on the matchup between the Florida pitching staff and the Miami hitters. The Hurricanes boast a powerful lineup, especially in the middle with outfielder Willie Abreu, catcher Zack Collins and third baseman David Thompson.
“They’re offensive. With Collins, Thompson, Abreu and Iskenderian right there in the middle, they’re big and strong. I think it’s a very good lineup.”
Friday night start at 7 p.m. while Saturday begins at 7:30 p.m. and will be televised on the SEC Network. Sunday’s series finale starts at 1 p.m.