Sunshine State Showdown: Battle of No. 1 vs. No. 2
By Josh White
CORAL GABLES, Fla. — The Miami Hurricanes left Gainesville last February with a sour taste in their mouths.
The Hurricanes were seven outs away from upsetting then-No. 3 Florida and winning their first series at McKethan Stadium in a decade.
Miami defeated the Gators, 5-2, Friday night but let a three-run lead slip away Saturday and allowed the Gators to pull away late in the series finale.
“I remember getting on the bus, getting ready to leave Gainesville, and you could hear a pin drop,” junior right-hander Chris McMahon said. “Everyone was pretty disappointed. We left that place feeling like we should have beaten them. We have another great opportunity again this weekend to take care of business.”
Fast forward a season later, a more experienced Hurricanes squad, who returns 22 letterwinners, is focused on finishing the job against their rivals.
The Canes (4-0) have jumped out to a fast start, sweeping Rutgers and dominating Kent State, 12-0, Wednesday evening at Mark Light Field.
But when the Gators come to Coral Gables this weekend, UM knows it’s going to be a different environment at The Light.
“You get the emotions flowing, you get everything going,” said junior first baseman Alex Toral, who blasted a home run against Florida last season. “We grew up playing against a lot of those guys, and we could be friends off the field, but once we’re out there, we’re throwing blows at each other as hard as we can. So it’s going to be a fun weekend.”
The excitement for the annual rivalry is also being felt nationally. The Hurricanes claimed the top spot in D1 Baseball’s rankings earlier this week with Florida checking in at No. 2.
And this weekend’s series could help the Canes show they belong among the nation’s best.
“You want stay at the top. You don’t want to lose to the Gators ever. We’re No. 1 now and the goal for us is to stay there,” McMahon said. “It’s a good opportunity to prove to people that we deserve that spot. It’s going to be a battle. It’s going to be a dogfight all weekend.”
Sophomore two-way player JP Gates added, “It’s just everything somebody could dream of. You have two Florida contenders, two of the best schools in Florida baseball, and we are both ranked very high. It’s going to be a battle back and forth.”
This will be the first time Miami and Florida have met for a regular-season series with both teams ranked in the top three since 1992.
With all three games of the series already sold out, Mark Light Field is expected to be jumping.
For many of the Canes, they had never played in a hostile environment like the one they experienced in Gainesville in 2019. And to have the Mark Light mob screaming “left, right, left” and “siéntate” in 2020 could help the hometown Hurricanes stay atop the college baseball landscape.
“It’s going to be a huge weekend here at The Light,” Toral said. “I feel like we’re gonna have a packed house. This place was rocking opening weekend against Rutgers and rivalry weekend against the Gators is going to be even more hectic.”
The three-game series begins Friday at 7 p.m. Game 2 is set for 7 p.m. and Sunday’s weekend finale is scheduled for a 1 p.m. start.
Redshirt senior right-hander Brian Van Belle will take the mound for the Canes opposite Florida junior right-hander Tommy Mace in the series opener.
“The atmosphere is similar to a regional or a super regional,” Hurricanes head coach Gino DiMare said. “I think it’s going to be a great series. I think it’s going to be excellent for college baseball. … It’ll be electric. I know our guys will be ready to play.”