Hurricanes Pose Great Challenge for Gators

For the second straight year the Gators will face the Miami Hurricanes in NCAA Tournament play at McKethan Stadium. Last year Florida eliminated the ‘Canes in the Regional marking the first time Florida had eliminated Miami from NCAA Tournament play. This time it's the Gators and Hurricanes in the Super Regional, best two-of-three for a trip to the College World Series.

The teams met in Coral Gables back in early March with the Gators taking the series two games to one. Florida grabbed the opener 7-1 behind Alex Panteliodis, Miami got game two 9-6 and the Gators took the decisive game 4-2 with Tommy Toledo throwing five excellent innings and Kevin Chapman adding four more.

Miami comes in with a 43-18 record having posted a 20-11 record in ACC play. The Hurricanes average almost eight runs a game and offer up an excellent balance of speed (103 SB) and power (104 HR). The ‘Canes are led by catcher Yasmani Grandal. The powerful switch hitter brings a .411 average into Gainesville with 24 doubles, 14 homer runs and 58 RBI. He's a finalist for the Golden Spikes Award, which is given to the best player in college baseball.

Third baseman Harold Martinez (.298, 21, 69) leads the team in home runs while left fielder Chris Pelaez (.314, 11, 53) is another quality bat. Florida also is plenty aware of right fielder Nathan Melendres (.314, 8, 32) who had a key three-run HR in Miami's only win in the early matchup. Five more ‘Canes have hit at least six homers, so there's plenty of depth in the lineup.

The running game is keyed by shortstop Stephen Perez and center fielder Zeke DeVoss each of whom is 24-28 in stolen base attempts. Melendez (13-17) is another threat on the bases.

Miami's pitching has not been great this year, but it's still pretty good. The top arm belongs to Chris Hernandez (10-3, 2.77). He pitched two innings on Tuesday and might be held out until Saturday. Florida beat Hernandez earlier this season, although he pitched reasonably well, allowing three earned runs in six innings while striking out eight. Eric Whaley (5-1, 5.28) and David Gutierrez (5-2, 5.12) are likely to be the other two starters if the series goes three games. Whaley got the win over the Gators while Gutierrez earned the save. Both pitched out of the bullpen that weekend and Whaley only recently began getting starts.

Miami has a solid and deep bullpen led by Daniel Miranda (5-2, 3.35, 5 saves) and E.J. Encinosa (1-1, 2.20). Sam Robinson (1-0, 1.27) pitched four great innings in Tuesday's win over Texas A&M to clinch the Regional.


Florida coach Kevin O'Sullivan on knocking Miami out last year:

"I had no idea about that and if I did I would talk about it anyway. That's obviously an impressive run (that Miami had against Florida) but we have young players and new players and I don't think it affects this club at all."

O'Sullivan on playing Miami:

"It doesn't matter who we play. This is a chance to go to Omaha, best two out of three playing at home. We're not going to underestimate anybody and we're not going to overestimate anybody. The bottom line is we have to play well. We have to concern ourselves with our team. If we play well we have a chance. If not, we'll come out on the short end of it."

On the significance of having won the regular season series:

"I think it's a confidence issue, but their team is probably different now and so is ours. We feel like we're a better club now than we were in March."

O'Sullivan on Yasmani Grandal:

"He's a switch-hitting catcher with size and power. They don't grow on trees. Catching is one of the hardest positions to recruit and scout because there's not a lot of them. You've got a guy (in Grandal) who can handle the defensive part of it, and he seems to me to be one of their vocal leaders. He's got some intangibles there. He's a really good player."


Miami coach Jim Morris is in his 26th consecutive NCAA Tournament. He'd led the Hurricanes to the tournament in each of his 17 years there, and before that had nine straight appearances with Georgia Tech.

This is the Gators 26th NCAA appearance as well, but the Gators' longest run of NCAA bids is six (2000-05). This is three straight NCAA bids in as many years under O'Sullivan.


As usual O'Sullivan was not ready to commit to a starting pitcher for Friday night except to acknowledge it'll be Panteliodis (10-2, 3.39) or Hudson Randall (8-3, 2.97) with whoever doesn't get the ball starting Saturday night's game. If there is a third game, Brian Johnson (6-4, 3.97) will take to the mound.

All three games will be at 7:00 and on live television on ESPN or ESPN2.

The winner of the Gainesville Super Regional will face either UCLA or Fullerton State in Omaha. The rest of Florida's half of the bracket has TCU at Texas and Vanderbilt at Florida State.

The other half of the draw shows Arkansas at Arizona State, Alabama at Clemson, Oklahoma visiting Virginia and South Carolina at Coastal Carolina in Myrtle Beach.

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