Sometimes when playing with fire you get burned. That became true over the weekend for me, as my predicted national champs, the Florida Gators (1-2) , lost 2 out of three to the Hurricanes of Miami (2-1). The Canes played spoiler to Florida’s ringing in of a new ballpark, taking the last two games to get their first series win over the Gators since 2014. How did we get there? Let’s break it down.
Game By Game Recap
The key word to describe this three game stretch: unpredictable. This was evident from the start, as the Gators and Canes got off to a delayed start on Friday, pushing the afternoon start back a couple of hours. Florida got the scoring off to a start in the bottom of the first when catcher Nathan Hickey lifted a blast to put the Gators ahead 1-0. However, Miami did not stay idle, and quickly answered back with a Christian Del Castillo double to tie it up. The Canes managed to load the bases up in the third inning, but couldn’t put up anything from it, leaving the scoring quiet for the moment. Mace looked shaky early, but managed to get it under control and dazzle in his last two innings, striking out 5 of the last 7 batters he faced.
Behind Mace’s strong performance, the Gators put up a 3 run fifth and a 1 run sixth and never looked back. A pair of scores in the eight put Florida up to an almost insurmountable lead, but as we would end up seeing by the end of the weekend, Miami was incredibly resilient. The Hurricanes plated 4 ninth inning runs, putting pressure on the Gators with only 1 out. Despite this, Florida was able to shut the door off of two fly ball outs induced by Franco Aleman, giving UF a 7-5 victory.
Saturday was likely the best baseball game of the weekend up to this point, and lived up to the hype these two teams had generated heading in, proving exactly why it was our Southern Slams Series of the week. Nathan Hickey again led the Gators to an explosive start, as Florida pressed the gas pedal to give themselves a 5-0 lead after the first, and a 8-3 lead heading into the back three innings of regulation. That’s when the wheels started to fall off for Florida, and the momentum in this series permanently shifted. In the seventh and eighth, Miami scored a run both innings thanks to help from a Wild Pitch and Passed Ball.
The ninth inning featured more self-inflicted damage for the Gators, as Franco Aleman struggled out of the bullpen, featuring an at bat series of: walk, walk, flyout, hit by pitch, walk, walk. The puzzling decision to leave Aleman on the mound allowed Miami to plate three in the ninth, sending the ball game into extra innings. The two Sunshine State ball clubs played three scoreless innings, until the 13th, where a walk, hit batsman, single, and throwing error gave the Hurricanes the two they needed to take the lead. The lead would hold thanks to Florida leaving the tying and winning runs on base, and Miami would even the series up with a 10-9 victory.
Then on Sunday, the Gators continued to struggle with control on the mound, finding themselves down 8-0 early. By this point Florida was sapped of momentum, and Miami wouldn’t look back, as Florida’s rally petered out in the eighth frame. Miami took this one 8-6, and with that, put a damper on Florida’s opening weekend.
Now to be frank, I’m no baseball super analyst. But it became very clear that the majority of this series came down to unforced errors from Florida. Props goes to Miami for having the restraint needed in the batter’s box, but this was Florida’s series to lose and lose they did. 30 combined walks and hit by pitches, alongside 6 errors killed Florida on the field.
Plenty of credit goes to the Hurricanes for their resilience over the weekend, as they proved themselves to be a scrappy ballclub. 11 of their runs this weekend came in the 7th inning or later, just under half of their produced scores. They managed to do it with small ball too, as only one home run was hit across the entire series by the Cane’s. If Miami can continue to have timely hitting and patience in pressure situations, they could make some serious noise in the ACC.
Players Of The Series
It’s time next to honor the players who stood out with impressive performances this weekend. Both the Gators and the Canes had impressive performances over the three game stretch, but these two stood out above the rest.
Florida’s offense was often boosted by the left handed bat of freshman Nathan Hickey. Behind the dish, Hickey stood out as the offensive and defensive standout for the Gators. Hickey accounted for 7 hits for the Gators in the three games, and also was accountable for two home runs. His 5 RBIs and 2 walks were also a nice pad to his statline, and this breakout weekend stood out as a bright spot for Florida when there weren’t very many.
Possibly the best brother duo in college baseball, Adrian and Christian Del Castillo were the ones to lift the Canes to victory this weekend. They combined for 10 RBI over the three ball games, and also put together 3 XBHs and a Stolen Base. The Miami offense really went as they went, and it always seemed like one of them was hot during the series. When Adrian took the background, Christian stepped up and vice versa. Look for them to be critical parts of the Miami offense going forward.
What’s On Tap?
From here, the Gators will have a home and home with North Florida (1-2) , and look to get back to the .500 mark on the season. After that, they host Samford (3-0) for the weekend, in what should be a return to form. Obviously the Gators will want to win them all, and will need to do so if they want to prove this past weekend as a fluke.
Miami will jump straight into conference play this weekend, as they will host Virginia Tech (3-0) for a three game stretch in Coral Gables. The Hokies just swept their weekend series, and will provide a challenge for the Hurricanes to back up their performance against Florida.