‘Canes baseball faces toughest series test this season against No. 4 Florida

Junior right-handed pitcher Gage Ziehl throws a pitch in the fourth inning in Miami's game against Long Island University on Friday, Feb. 23 at Mark Light Field. Photo credit: Lexy Ward

After a grueling midweek loss to Florida Gulf Coast, Miami (5-3) gets no easy bounce back as they host the No. 4 ranked Florida Gators (6-2) in its annual marquee out-of-conference series with the SEC rival.

While UM has not had its perfect start to the season, do not let the No. 4 ranking fool you because neither has UF. Florida, like Miami, also lost a midweek game this week as the Gators fell to Stetson on Tuesday by a final of 4-7. UF also lost its season opener to St. John’s in a season far from ideal for a team that lost its best hitter in Wyatt Langford and pitchers (Hurston Waldrep and Brandon Sproat) to the draft.

Last year in this series, the Gators took two out of three from the Hurricanes in Gainesville behind a dominant offensive performance, scoring 30 runs. Its offense is led by star players Langford and Jac Caglianone, who combined to put up ten hits, 11 RBI, and five home runs in just three games.

Luckily for UM, Langford is gone to the pros after being selected fourth to the Texas Rangers in the 2023 MLB draft. However, the preseason 2024 Two-Way Player of the Year and 2023 Golden Spikes Award finalist, Caglianone, is back.

Keeping Caglianone quiet will be essential for Hurricanes pitchers as he is by far the Gator’s best hitter and, as mentioned earlier, has had plenty of success against Miami pitching.

The Hurricanes should have an advantage in this series from the starting pitching. The void left by Waldrep and Sproat’s departure in the first and second rounds of the MLB has left a considerable gap to fill in the weekend rotation.

Up to this point, Miami starter Gage Ziehl has yet to look his best on the mound, getting struck in both stars his second and third times through the order. UM will need him to succeed deep into game one to set the tone for the whole series, especially since the new Friday night starter for the Gators, Cade Fisher, has struggled up to this point with a nine ERA in two starts.

Where starting pitching has looked great for Miami has been on Saturday and Sunday, even with a new guy in each role. RafeSchelssinger and Herick Hernandez have been nothing short of dominant up to this point in the season, as they have only given up one run through a combined 23 innings pitched.

If Schlessinger and Hernandez stay dominant in their most challenging tests as starters, the ‘Canes will have considerable advantages in those games. Schlessinger will likely battle freshman Liam Peterson, who is off to a hot start with no runs allowed through his first seven collegiate innings pitched. Hernandez will likely dual flamethrower Jac Caglianone, who, despite his heat, struggled in his only start this year, giving up three runs in three innings.

On the offensive side, the ‘Canes must step it up to the next level at the plate. Too often, the offense has gone through lengthy scoring droughts, and the pitching it will see this weekend will easily be the best it has seen all year.

Miami infielders Daniel Cuvet and Jason Torres will look to continue to lead the offense. At the same time, guys who have had previous success but are off to slow starts, like Blake Cyr and Lucas Costello, must produce to be successful against the Gators.

The game times for this weekend are 7 p.m., 3 p.m., and 1 p.m. on Friday, Saturday, and Sunday, respectively. Gage Ziehl will have the rock on Friday night in a green-out game at Mark Light Field as the Hurricanes look to take the pivotal match one of this three-game set.