Canes Face Undefeated Gators

University of Miami baseball left Gainesville in a good mood last season after upsetting the Florida Gators at the Regionals. But after an off-season of plenty of roster changes the Hurricanes and Gators are still trying to figure out where they belong.

Miami did their part in the opening week.

Despite a stumble in the final game of the season-opening series against Campbell last weekend, the Hurricanes outscored the Fighting Camels 44-24 on their way to winning two of the three games. Miami posted double-digit run totals in both of their victories and scored nine runs in a losing effort that took extra innings.

Now comes the hard part.

The Hurricanes (3-1) travel to Gainesville this weekend (Feb. 14-16) to face long-time rival Florida in what could be an early indicator on Miami's fortunes the rest of the season. Miami defeated Florida last season to capture the Gainesville regional before falling short of the College World Series. The series starts tonight at McKethan Stadium Young and still in search of their respective identities, both the Hurricanes and Gators are using this early match-up to see how far they have to go in their efforts to get back to Omaha. But although Miami players like Gaby Sanchez, Ryan Bruan and Brian Barton, to name a few, will be seeing the Gators for the first time, Florida coach Pat McMahon knows better and he's not about to let his guard down.

"I've known Coach Morris for a long time and I'm very aware of what he's done to us in the past," said McMahon. "So whenever Miami rolls into town you better make sure you play good fundamental baseball and keep your mistakes to a minimum. You can't give those boys any extra outs."

Miami has proved that through four games this season accumulating a team batting average of .359, which includes nine players at .333 or better. Leading the way is first-year second baseman Ryan Bruan. In four starts, Bruan is 8-for-14 with three runs scored, three walks, 11 total bases, three RBI and two stolen bases. Bruan leads the team in hits. Designated hitter Adam Ricks is also off to a sizzling start. The junior college transfer is 6-for-13 with six runs scored and is tied for the team lead with nine RBI.

Danny Figueroa had a perfect 4-for-4 performance in the finale against Campbell to boost his overall average to .438. Figueroa has scored 10 runs and recorded three stolen bases in as many attempts.

But the Hurricanes pitching staff, which Morris suspected would be a problem to start the season, has struggled. Staff ace Dan Touchet started the opener against Florida International and turned in a respectable outing, allowing five runs and seven hits in five innings of work. The rest of the staff has been shaky. The Hurricanes have surrendered 24 runs and 38 hits in four games and will arrive in Gainesville with a 5.59 ERA. Not exactly the way Morris wanted his staff performing with the Gators on-deck. Florida carried a .429 batting average into their game against Charleston Southern Wednesday night and has scored 47 runs in three games.

Former Killian High standout Stephen Barton has wasted little time in contributing with six hits in 10 plate appearances and a team-leading eight RBI. Sophomore C. J. Smith has two home runs in three games.

Surprisingly, the Gators pitching staff has performed well despite featuring two sophomores in Justin Hoyman and Conner Falkenbach. Both Hoyman and Falkenbach have already picked up victories this season.

"We have a lot of live arms on our staff. There's just no telling how fast they are going to develop," said McMahon.

"We're a real young ballclub right now so when people ask me to get a gauge on my team at this point it's real tough because I honestly don't know. We don't have to many seniors and our pitching staff is still coming together. Ask me that same question in April and I'll have a better idea of where were headed."

But all is well so far.

Despite a low key approach by McMahon when asked to describe his team the Gators are off to their 21st 3-0 start in school history after an extra-inning 10-9 victory over Charleston Southern at home Wednesday night. Junior outfielder Ben Harrison sparked the Gators offense with four hits, including a home run and double. Harrison also added four RBI. The Gators Brian Dowdy came home after walking and heading for second on an attempted. The errant throw sailed into center field and Dowdy raced home with the game-winning run.

First pitch for the opener is 6:30 p.m. followed by a 2 p.m. game on Saturday and 1 p.m. start on Sunday.

FUTURE HALL OF FAMER AT LIGHT

The Hurricanes will return to Mark Light Field Feb. 21-23 to host a three-game series against San Diego State. San Diego State is coached by former five-time San Diego Padres batting champion Tony Gwynn. The first two games of the series are scheduled for 7 p.m. starts, while the finale has been moved to a noon start.

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