The University of Miami baseball team will look to take the momentum they captured in sweeping UCLA up to Gainesville this weekend for a three game series with rivals the Florida Gators.
After being swept by the Gators at home last season, the ‘Canes will look for revenge behind the bat of first baseman Yonder Alonso and a suddenly hot pitching staff that, aside from the late innings on Saturday night, was dominant all weekend against the Bruins.
Although the Gators are not as highly touted coming into this year’s series as they were last year, when they were ranked No. 2, Head Coach Jim Morris will not take this weekend lightly.
“Sometimes you’re better off with unproven guys,” Morris said. “Sometimes new blood isn’t bad for your team. They still have Matt LaPorta, and he is one of the best hitters in the country. They always play us tough.”
LaPorta, a senior and the 2005 SEC Player of the Year, has been a dominant figure in this rivalry over the past three years and will look to extend his reign of terror. However, Miami will trot out their own masher in Alonso, who is coming off another big weekend which included a two homerun, four hit Saturday night.
“Yonder is an outstanding hitter,” Morris said. “He has started out hot at the plate, and his hitting is definitely the strength of his game.”
Alonso, along with centerfielder Blake Tekotte and third baseman Gus Menendez, has lead Miami’s offense early in the season. However, just as critical in this road opener against a big time rival in a hostile environment will be the leadership provided by seniors such as shortstop Roger Tomas.
“I don’t consider practice to be tenser during this week,” Tomas said. “I try to relax everyone, make jokes; practice the same. We try to make it so we are not playing UF, just another good team.”
While Miami’s pitching improved last weekend, it can still expect a very tough test against the Gators, who Morris said historically play the ‘Canes with more tenacity than any of their other opponents.
“My teams haven’t been very successful against UF at UF. They play us tougher than anyone,” Morris said. “It is going to be cold and we will have to adjust. We will learn things about our team and we look forward to it.”
As with any rivalry match-up, this series will be an exciting battle between two well matched teams with a long history. These teams have played 207 times, with Miami holding the all-time advantage 116-90, with one tie.
Both teams will be full of adrenalin and would like nothing more than to prove their dominance over the other early on in the season.
“Everyone’s excited,” Tomas said. “We look forward to it. It is always better to beat someone at their place.”
Dan Stein may be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.