Anyone that claims that the Hurricanes three game series against the Florida Gators this weekend is “just another series” needs to do a little research about the history between these two teams.
An in-state rivalry that has been fierce for many years, heated up to a new level after Jim Burt sent the Gators home with a two-out, two-strike double in the ninth inning of last year’s Super Regional. While the Miami coaches and players will enter the series with a business-like attitude, they won’t deny that this weekend means a little more than most series.
“Well, every series is important,” head coach Jim Morris said. “We try to sweep at home and win the series on the road. We know this weekend is big though because Florida is our in-state rival.”
One player is already stressing the importance of the Florida series in determining Miami’s playoff picture.
“This is one of our biggest series that we have this year,” catcher Erick San Pedro said. “Whenever we play there it is like a playoff atmosphere.”
Florida fans are rowdy, said several players, and when in Gainesville the hostile crowd will do anything to get a rise out of a Hurricane player.
“I would say they have the worst fans of anyone that we’ve faced,” San Pedro said. “They yell at us, curse at us, and if you show any emotion at all they will get on your case right away.”
The ‘Canes will attempt to build on some of the positives shown in last weekend’s series against the Campbell Camels, where the starting pitching shined and the offense produced 32 runs.
“I think we showed some great defense in the Campbell series,” Morris said. “We were swinging the bat well and our starting pitching has been good thus far.”
One area of the Hurricanes’ game that struggled in Saturday’s loss was the bullpen. None of the ‘Canes coaches and players are overly concerned with the lack of production they have been getting from the relievers, at least not right now.
“We do need to win when ahead in the late innings, and that is where the bullpen comes in,” Morris said. “Until [George] Huguet comes back we’ll have J.D. Cockroft and Tom King hold down the closer role.”
The Gators are led by junior Ben Harrison, a power hitting outfielder, and freshman infielder Stephen Barton. They outscored Mercer 37-4 in their two game series.
“Florida has a real good player in Ben Harrison,” Morris said. “They also have good catching. Overall they’re a real solid team.”
The veterans on the Miami roster feel that the younger players might not know what to expect from their first trip to Gainesville.
“The younger players haven’t been involved with a crowd like this before,” pitcher Shawn Valdes-Fauli said. “I think it will be a great experience for them.”
San Pedro hopes to be one of the Hurricanes that has a huge series against the Gators. The sophomore catcher broke out of a minor slump on Saturday with a big three-run double.
“The last Campbell game was big for me,” San Pedro said. “I was 0 for 2 in the game and I was a bit angry and I was able to take it out on the pitching. When you’re struggling you look for one pitch to drive and I was able to get it.”
If Miami wants to have a chance to repeat last season’s performance, the players know they will have to raise the level of their play.
“We understand that we have to play like we’re expected to play,” Valdes-Fauli said. “To beat Florida we have to play like we’re the number one team in the nation.”
-Eric Kalis can be reached at email@example.com