Ranked eighth in the country, Miami now welcomes a different challenge.
The Hurricanes are as hot as they have been this season, winners of their last 10 games as they enter Friday.
Yet, the schedule might not get any easier for them as they prepare to face their highest-ranked opponent of the season, when they host the No. 3 Virginia Cavaliers this weekend.
Miami (23-6, 10-2 Atlantic Coast Conference) comes into its next ACC series after cruising to a 17-1 victory against Florida International on Wednesday.
“We put the game away early, I was happy to see some of the guys swing the bat that had been struggling a little bit,” Miami head coach Gino DiMare said.
After the Hurricanes had to call on sophomore closer Andrew Walters to garner a save in the previous game versus Florida Gulf Coast, Miami only brought in one arm as sophomore starter Jake Garland pitched eight innings.
“We wanted a game out of Jake where he can get extended a little bit, we got a big weekend and of course five games in a week you’re always concerned about bullpen and using guys up,” DiMare said. “Just what the doctor ordered, he threw eight innings, allowed us to rest some guys, very efficient.”
Miami will need the extra arm rest, too, as its upcoming opponent features the best offense in the ACC. Virginia (26-3, 9-3 ACC) has plated 318 runs this season, 24 more than the second-leading scorer in the ACC, Georgia Tech.
“I always know Virginia is a very well coached team, very fundamentally sound. Usually, a difficult team to strike out, they do a very good job of putting the ball in play and hitting with two strikes,” DiMare said.
The team from Charlottesville, Virginia, holds impressive offensive talent. Sophomore infielder Jake Gelof and freshman Casey Saucke lead the way, each hitting .437 and .406, respectively. Gelof has an incredible .981 slugging percentage, as he has crushed an NCAA-leading 14 home runs and added 10 doubles. His 53 RBI are also the most of any NCAA hitter in Division I.
Virginia, however, is not one dimensional and its pitching staff matches the excellence of the offense. The team’s collective ERA of 2.84 is the best in the conference and the fourth-best in the country. Virginia pitchers have also put together six shutouts, three more than the next-leading schools in North Carolina and Pittsburgh.
To counter, the Hurricanes will look to their hot performers in the lineup. Sophomore shortstop Dominic Pitelli has been on a tear recently, winning Co-ACC Player of the Week honors last week for his 10-RBI, two-grand-slam weekend against Duke. Pitelli followed the performance up with a 4-for-5, four-RBI game against FIU.
“I feel confident about everything, our staff, our coaches, our players, our pitching, everything,” Pitelli said.
Sophomore first baseman CJ Kayfus will be another bat to watch as Kayfus leads Miami hitters in batting average (.372) and ranks second in RBI with 29, despite often filling the leadoff spot.
Nate Savino, a left-handed pitcher with a 3.0 ERA and a 4-1 record, will be the Friday starter for UVA. Behind him, the Cavaliers will send USC transfer Brian Gursky to the mound on Saturday, with 6-foot-10-Jake Berry getting the first turn on the hill Sunday.
On Miami’s side, left hander Carson Palmquist, who threw a career-high 12 strikeouts in the series opener at Duke, will start Friday. Freshman Karson Ligon is set to start Saturday, and Miami native Alejandro Rosario will begin Sunday’s contest. First pitch on Friday is scheduled for 7 p.m.