Miami’s biggest non-conference series of the season gets underway on Friday night as the Hurricanes take on the 14th ranked Florida Gators (8-2, 0-0 SEC) at Mark Light Field. Miami enters the series at 7-1, their best start since 2013, and will have an opportunity to win the series for the second year in a row after winning the series in Gainesville last season.
Ahead of this weekend, the Hurricanes have moved up in nearly every national poll, with Miami ranked as high as No.18 in the NCBWA and Perfect Game Top 25s.
The Hurricanes are a consensus top-25 team with something to prove pic.twitter.com/CpEyZkTA2z— Canes Baseball (@CanesBaseball) February 28, 2022
Miami will also make some changes to their starting rotation ahead of the series, which Gino DiMare suggested was possible earlier this week during a radio interview with Hurricane Hotline. Freshman Karson Ligon will enter the rotation to pitch on Saturday after an excellent first college start against FAU where he pitched five one-run innings with eight strikeouts, in which the only run he allowed was on a solo home run. Carson Palmquist will start on Friday night, with Jake Garland starting on Sunday after not allowing an earned run thorough his first two starts of the season.
The weekend series between the two rivals is sold out, and it could have a massive impact on the NCAA Tournament even though it is early in the season. Miami’s strong start has left them in a position to become one of the top teams in the country, and Florida and the rest of the SEC are expected to be excellent yet again in 2022.
Florida has emerged as one of the top offensive teams in the country over the first few weeks of 2022. UF ranks 20th in the country in runs scored as a team so far this season, and has six batters batting over .300 and three batters batting over .400 to start the year. Florida trails only Tennessee in home runs hit this season with 24, and as 2022 goes on this could become one of the best offenses in college baseball.
Miami’s offense has been solid as well, scoring at least 10 runs in five of their eight games and more than six in every game besides last Saturday’s 2-1 victory over Harvard. The middle of the Hurricanes order, Yohandy Morales, Maxwell Romero, and Jacob Burke have all started the season well, with each having an OPS over 1.000 through the first eight games of the Hurricanes’ season. In addition, almost every regular starter for Miami has already hit a home run this season. Miami’s coaching staff entered the season hoping this is one of the deepest and most balanced offenses the Hurricanes have had in recent memory, and the early results have been very good for Miami.
Pitching has been a strength for Florida in recent years with players such as Tommy Mace, Brady Singer, and Dane Dunning all having success in Gainesville before moving on the the MLB or minor leagues and finding success there as well. 2022 should be no different. Hunter Barco leads the pitching staff, and he has allowed just one earned run over his first 12 innings of the season. Barco is an extremely talented left-handed pitcher who could hear his name called in the first round of this year’s MLB Draft. He has everything professional scouts want to see in a pitcher, with velocity to go along with solid secondary pitches that have led him to an excellent start to this season. Barco averages nearly two strikeouts an inning, with 23 strikeouts and just two walks across his first two starts in 2022. Friday’s game could be one of the best pitching matchups in the country with Barco facing off against Carson Palmquist.
The rest of Florida’s pitching staff has followed Barco’s lead to a 2.30 ERA despite three of UF’s 10 games so far this season coming against Liberty, who was ranked No.20 in last week’s D1Basball poll. The Flames won the series against Florida during the first weekend of the season, but since then UF has won seven games in a row, including a 17-0 win against FAMU in their most recent game on Wednesday in which they hit six home runs.
Miami’s pitching staff will face their toughest test of the season so far when Florida visits over the weekend, but the Hurricanes pitchers have been excellent as well. Miami has allowed opposing teams to score more than two runs just twice this season, and the Hurricanes team ERA of 2.25 is impressive for a team that came into this season with multiple pitchers moving into new roles.
Closer Andrew Walters is two for two in his first two save opportunities in his college career, and he leads a Miami bullpen that has been one of the strengths of the team so far this year. Anthony Arguelles, Rafe Schlesinger, and Alex McFarlane all haven’t allowed a run through Miami’s first eight games, and the Hurricanes depth and flexibility should allow Miami to create matchups against Florida to find success this weekend.
Carson Palmquist and Jake Garland have anchored the Hurricanes starting rotation. Garland has been dominant to start 2022, and on Sunday against Harvard he recorded 18 outs, 15 of which were strikeouts or groundouts. Preventing Florida from hitting the ball in the air will be key this weekend, and Garland’s ability to force groundouts and keep his pitch count low (he threw just 63 pitches in his outing last Sunday) could be key during a Sunday afternoon game that could determine the series.
Sterlin Thompson and Colby Halter lead Florida’s offense, and both have been hard for opposing defenses to deal with in the early part of the season. Thompson has hit five home runs, with Halter hitting four, and the pair have combined for 35 hits, with 14 of those being extra-base hits. UF has a team OPS of .965, and this weekend could prove to be an offensive battle between the two rivals.
Coral Gables is the site of what should be one of the best matchups across college baseball this season, and Miami has a massive opportunity to make an early statement this weekend. The series is scheduled to get underway at 7:00 p.m. on Friday night on ACC Network Extra (available to stream in the ESPN app and online), with Saturday’s game scheduled to start at the same time on the same network. The third game of the series on Sunday is scheduled for 12:00 p.m., with it available on TV on the ACC Network. All three games will be available on radio on WVUM 90.5 FM. It should be an exciting weekend in Miami, with Mark Light Field completely sold out for the first time since the start of the Covid-19 pandemic in the spring of 2020.