Sound familiar: UM-UF at the ‘Light'

The University of Miami baseball team hasn't exactly greeted the Florida Gators warmly whenever their in-state rival has headed south into Coral Gables in recent memory. The Hurricanes have defended their territory with perfection having won 13 straights games over the Gators at Mark Light Stadium.

The defending national champion Hurricanes probably wouldn't have any problems continuing the streak, coming off a humbling 7-1 mid-week defeat at the hands of Florida International University. And they will get that chance starting tonight at 7 p.m. as UM opens a three-game series against the Gators. Both teams will play again Saturday at 7 p.m. and Sunday at 1p.m.

Last season, the Hurricanes won all four games against the Gators-one in Gainsville, two at UM and another in the Coral Gables NCAA regional which eliminated Florida from post-season competition and prompted the firing of head coach Andy Lopez. It markedthe first season-sweep for Miami over the Gators since 1991.

The Hurricanes (2-2) opened defense of their title with a series-victory over the University of Tennessee, while the 3-0 Gators swept Charleston Southern before defeating Mercer. Florida has scored 48 runs in three games, but Miami has struggled offensively with a team batting average of .260 and a starting pitching staff whose longest outing of the year is 4 1/3 innings.

Senior shortstop Javy Rodriguez, one of only three players hitting .300 or better, is 9-for-16 on the season and leads the Hurricanes at .562. Rodriguez also has recorded two stolen bases so far this season to over the 100-plateau (101). Freshman centerfielder Danny Figueroa is second with a .357 (5-for-14) average, while first baseman Matt Dryer is hitting at a .333 clip. No other Hurricanes is hitting above .222.

The Hurricanes have surrendered 22 runs (17 earned) in 35 innings with junior right-hander Troy Roberson (0-0, 2.08 ERA) coming the closest to a win before being removed in the season-opener needing two outs for the victory.

Miami head coach Jim Morris warned even before the season started that his young team would experience some growing pains in the early going. But he won't worry too much if it all serves as a learning process.

"I take what we can get from it and forget the rest," said Morris. "I understand it's early in the season and this is a young ballclub. All we can do is try to get better as a team and fight our way through it."

The Gators, with head coach Pat McMahon in his first season, enter the series on a roll thanks to some hot bats that ignited by sophomore Ben Harrison. Harrison, hitting a team-leading .714, is 10-for-14 with three RBI on the season Harrison had a school-record tying five hits in the opening-day victory and most recently had a 3-for-5 effort against Mercer.

Junior right-hander Alex Hart (1-0, 0.00 ERA), the reining Louisville slugger National Co-Player of the Week, pitched six innings of no-hit ball and set a school record by retiring 15 consecutive batters in a victory over Charleston Southern.

The series between both schools dates back to 1940 and their meetings this weekend will be Nos. 189-191. Miami has a 107-80-1 lead in the all-time series.

The Hurricanes will hand the ball over to Roberson tonight, with senior left-hander Keith Ramsey, making his second career start, will throw for Florida. Miami junior right-hander Kiki Bengochea will oppose Hart on Saturday, while Canes sophomore T.J. Prunty (0-0, 8.10 ERA) will go against senior left-hander Jimmy Ramshaw, making his first start of the year in the series finale.

Current Florida Marlins catcher Charles Johnson, who played at Miami from 1990-92, will have his No. 23 Hurricanes jersey retired before Saturday's contest.

Junior right-hander Troy Roberson handed the Gators a 6-2 defeat before Stetson eliminated Florida for good with a victory on the same day. Florida finished 35-27 overall on the season, which wasn't good enough to keep Andy Lopez around as head coach. Lopez was dismissed at the end of the season and with the reigns being turned over to Pat McMahon, who had previously coached four years at the University of Mississippi State.

But that isn't all that has changed in Gainesville. The Gators lost 11 players off of last season's team, including four position starters. Florida opened the season with 16 freshmen sprinkled in-between a veteran core that consist of junior catcher Brian Rose, senior first baseman Ryan Shealy, senior outfielder Matt Goss and junior infielder Aaron Sobieraj. Florida also loss the services of six pitchers and will rely on a staff that includes junior Alex Hart and senior righthander Kevin Coleman.

Still, McMahon sounds a little like University of Miami head coach Jim Morris did when asked about his ballclub, in his assessment of the Gators. Just like Miami, Florida has plenty of talent. But it is largely unproven. McMahon isn't afraid to say his team will stumble often in the early stages of the season.

"We're going to be challenged at times to overcome some mistakes," said McMahon. "But that's just the product of having a young team. Hopefully, we'll take our licks early and learn from them. We have the potential to be a real solid team."

Florida may be already displaying that potential.

Before playing Mercer in mid-week, the Gators battered around Charleston Southern to open the season with consecutive victories on their home field. In the first game of the series, Florida took advantage of a school-record 29 hits to register a 25-1 victory over Charleston Southern at McKethan Stadium, McMahon's debut with the Gators.

The Gators' hit total surpassed the previous game hits record of 28 vs. Georgia State in 1996. The Gators also set a school-record for most at-bats in a game with 52, surpassing the old mark of 51 against Kentucky in 1998. Additionally, Florida set a record for runs scored, breaking the old record of 20 against Georgia in a 1953 contest.

Outfielder Ben Harrison led the Gators offense with a school-record tying and career-high five hits. The sophomore finished 5-6 with four runs scored, two RBI, a home run and double. David Klebonis (3-4, 2 RBI), Shealy (3-5, two runs scored), Rose (3-4, three runs scored, three RBI and a HR), Goss (2-3, three RBI, two runs scored), Sobieraj (3-3, 2 RBI, HR) and catcher Joe Mercadante (2-2, five RBI) all had muti-hit performances.

"We took some quality swings and had some quality at-bats," said McMahon. "We hit some balls real hard real hard and even some of the balls that we hit for outs were hit hard."

Senior lefthander Keith Ramsey, who is slated to start in the series against the Hurricanes, earned the victory on the mound after allowing three hits and one run in five innings and 74 pitches of work in his first career start for the Gators. Kevin Coleman (2.0 IP), Matt Bomeisi (1.0 IP) and Scott Druker all contributed on the mound.

Hart, the reigning Collegiate Baseball Co-National Player of the Week, threw six innings of no-hit baseball the following day as the Gators romped again over Charleston Southern, 12-2. The Gators held Charleston Southern hitless until the seventh inning before catcher Chris Kellett doubled to centerfield.

Hart set a new school record for most consecutive batters retired to start a game as he set down 15 straight batters from the first through the sixth innings. An error to lead off the sixth ended his streak. Hart surpassed the 13 in a row retired by Rob Bonacco vs. Ohio State in a 1994 contest. Hart allowed no hits, no runs and stuck out six, including the first four hitters he faced. Jaime Goldfarb (1.0 IP), Ben Hedgecock (1.0 IP) and Ryan Sadowski (1.0 IP) mopped up for Hart.

Miami, coming off a game against Florida International, will have to sharpen up their starting pitching in hopes of keeping the Gators in the ballpark. No UM starter went further than 4 1/3 innings in the season-opening series against Tennessee.

It was junior righthander Troy Roberson that came two outs shy of recording his first victory in close to two seasons. Roberson on a 75-pitch count allowed four hits, two runs and fanned five batters before being removed by Morris. Sophomore Kiki Bengochea struggled in his first outing of the year, lasting just 2 2/3 innings after surrendering six hits and five runs, with three being earned. In the final game of the series, UM starter T. J. Prunty was touched for four runs and four hits in just over three innings on the mound.

But the Hurricanes bullpen came to the rescue giving up just four runs in 16 2/3 innings of relief. Vince Vasquez, who has also had elbow problems the last several seasons, picked up a save in the Hurricanes 5-4 victory over Tennessee in the first game of the season for Miami.

Although Morris would like to see his starters be more effective, he likes the bullpen's success as well.

"That's always been our philosophy to get some solid innings from our starters and use guys from the pen," said Morris. "That way we keep some arms fresh and we can be in good shape later on in the season."

The Hurricanes lead the all-time series against the Gators 107-80-1 and have won six of the last eight meetings between the teams.

HOME COOKING: The Gators roster consist of plenty of players from the South Florida area. They include: Freshman 2B Stephen Barton (Killian); Bomeisi (Killian); Drucker (Westminster Academy); Matt Maley (Killian); Rose (Killian); Shealy (Cardinal Gibbons); RHP Ryan Sadowski (Western); Sophomore lefthander Tom Potter (Baron Collier); Harrison (Key West)

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