Gators sweep Canes in season’s first losses

Julian Santos, freshman, slides into third base after hitting a triple in the game against University of Florida on Sunday. Zach Beeker//The Miami Hurricane
Freshman outfielder Julian Santos slides into third base for a triple during Sunday’s loss to the Florida Gators. Miami, which was undefeated entering the weekend series, dropped all three games to the No. 1 Gators. The Hurricanes took a 5-3 lead into the ninth inning of Sunday’s game, but could not hold on. Zach Beeker//The Miami Hurricane

After the University of Miami baseball team beat Florida Atlantic last week, the players and coaches finally opened up about their upcoming series against the top-ranked University of Florida. The conversation focused on the Gator’s recent dominance in the series, and the Canes’ opportunity to end those struggles.

Unfortunately for the Hurricanes and their fans, the weekend didn’t play out as they planned. Miami (8-3) was swept by Florida and has now lost 11 straight games to its in-state rival dating back to the 2010 season.

“I’ve never been beaten 11 times in a row in anything, including tiddlywinks,” coach Jim Morris said of the losing streak, which includes losses in the postseason. “That’s not something I like or ever expected.”

It didn’t help that the 11th loss came in stunning and heartbreaking fashion.

After starter Bryan Radziewski pitched an impressive 6 2/3 innings allowing just three runs, Miami’s bullpen took over and got the ball to closer EJ Encinosa, who recorded the final two outs in the top of the eighth for Miami. He returned to the mound in the top of the ninth with a 5-3 lead for a save opportunity.

Encinosa walked leadoff hitter Nolan Fontana to start the inning and then hit centerfielder Daniel Pigott. Preston Tucker grounded out to second, and into the batter’s box stepped catcher Mike Zunino. The preseason All-American hit a bloop double into shallow centerfield, scoring both runners and tying the ballgame at 5-5.

That’s when Encinosa lost all control.

With Taylor Gushue at the plate, Encinosa threw a wild pitch and Zunino advanced to third. Gushue took first after being hit by a pitch. With runners at the corners and the game tied, Encinosa then threw a second wild pitch. Zunino came in to score the go-ahead run.

Florida would go on to win 8-5, scoring five runs on just two hits in the ninth. The remarkable comeback clinched the sweep for the No. 1 Gators and left the Hurricanes with another tough rivalry series to digest.

“We played really well for eight innings,” Morris said. “You’ve got to close the game out. The toughest inning to pitch in baseball is the ninth inning.”

But as bad as that ninth inning was, the Hurricanes didn’t lose the series on Sunday alone. Friday and Saturday’s games saw suspect pitching from the usually reliable Erik Erickson and Eric Whaley, and several mental errors from the Hurricanes’ fielders.

Erickson held the Gators in check at the beginning of the series opener, limiting the damage after runners got on base. But after giving up three runs through four innings, Erickson came undone in the fifth. The Gators scored three more runs. That was all for Miami’s Friday night starter, who fell to 2-1 with the loss.

Eric Whaley didn’t fair much better on Saturday night. The Gators scored eight runs in the fourth and fifth with some help from the Hurricane fielders. Michael Broad misplayed a potential double play in the fourth, which led to three runs, and Stephen Perez recorded two errors on one play in the top of the fifth.

“Every game is a tough loss,” Radziewski said. “Luckily it’s early in the season and we’ll bounce back from it.”

The Canes will play an exhibition game against the Miami Marlins in their new ballpark on Tuesday, and will return to Alex Rodriguez Park to play Miami of Ohio on Wednesday.