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Thursday, February 25, 2021

Gators set for opening day in new stadium with Miami rematch

A year after sweeping the Hurricanes in a battle of No. 1 vs. No. 2, Florida is ready for a new battle against the in-state rival

The Gators were ranked No. 1in preseason rankings for the third time. Photo from Gators-Winthrop Eagles in March 2019.
The Gators were ranked No. 1in preseason rankings for the third time. Photo from Gators-Winthrop Eagles in March 2019.

For the first time in over 11 months, the Gators will play a baseball game, beginning a three-game series against Miami Friday night.

Florida, the unanimous No. 1 team, hopes for a repeat of its sweep against the Hurricanes that vaulted the Gators to the top of the rankings. UF’s dominance in the rivalry extends past 2020, as Florida won each of the last six regular-season series and 15 of the last 18 contests between the two schools.

With Tommy Mace and Jack Leftwich’s return, the Gators will trot out the same three pitchers that started in Miami last year, with Mace tabbed for Friday, Leftwich Saturday and second-year Hunter Barco Sunday.

Mace will get Florida’s opening start for a second straight season after his six-inning, two-run win against Marshall a year ago. Florida’s ace had the Hurricanes’ number in Coral Gables last year, he allowed two hits and one run in seven innings of work

Leftwich and Barco had two gems of their own against Miami last year, both only allowing one run while throwing 6.0 and 5.1 innings, respectively. Barco’s performance was enough for his first collegiate win in just his second start. 

Reliever Ben Specht, who was named preseason All-SEC Second Team in the coaches poll, got two wins of his own in the series.

Florida’s bats had their share of heroics against Miami as well. Jud Fabian tied the Feb. 22 game with an RBI double in the top of the ninth before UF broke the game open with a five-run 10th inning. 

Fabian, who was named a preseason unanimous All-American and eight-best prospect for the 2021 draft according to MLB.com, batted .294 with 20 hits and five home runs in 17 games.

Jacob Young also has a chance to make some interesting history Friday. The outfielder is riding a hitting streak that dates back to June 1, 2019 after he recorded a hit in all 17 games of 2020. A hit in the season opener would create a streak spanning three seasons and 630 days. 

Young led the team with a batting average of .450 last year. The 18-game run is the second-longest in school history, trailing Jonathan India’s 24-game streak in 2018.

The new Florida Ballpark’s first game is scheduled for 3 p.m. Friday and will be televised on SEC Network. Saturday’s and Sunday’s contests will begin at 1 p.m.

Contact Ryan Haley at rhaley@alligator.org or follow him on Twitter @ryan_dhaley

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Ryan Haley

Ryan Haley is a second-year journalism major with a sports & media specialization from Jacksonville, Florida. He grew up playing a bunch of different sports before settling on golf, following Rory McIlroy and all Philadelphia sports teams. He also loves all things fiction, reading, watching shows and movies and talking about whatever current story or character is in his head.


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