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Sunday, September 24, 2023

Gators head to Miami for rivalry series against ‘Canes

The series marks the first meeting between the squads since last year’s series defeat for Florida

<p>Jud Fabian nails a home run shot to center field. Florida edged Bethune-Cookman Tuesday night, 3-2.</p>

Jud Fabian nails a home run shot to center field. Florida edged Bethune-Cookman Tuesday night, 3-2.

There will be no love lost in SoFlo this weekend.

The No. 14 Gators will travel down to Coral Gables, Florida, for their first road weekend series against the No. 22 Miami Hurricanes. 

Florida has been on cruise control, winning seven straight including four-consecutive outings where the bats scored ten or more runs, but none of that will matter at Alex Rodriguez Park.

In rivalry matchups, it never does.

This weekend will be the first time the Gators have seen Miami since the series defeat at Florida Ballpark last spring. After winning the Friday matchup 7-5, Florida dropped the next two, losing the first series at its new yard. Now, going back to Miami, where the Gators swept the Hurricanes in 2020, pleasantries will be left at the door.

“We hate Miami, they hate us,” junior Jud Fabian said. “We’re looking forward to going down there. We’re going to play with a lot of confidence, and it’s going to be a competitive weekend.”

Florida looks different on the hill this weekend from the previous two series; sophomores Hunter Barco and Timmy Manning will anchor the Friday and Sunday games, but fellow sophomore Brandon Sproat will make his first weekend start Saturday. 

“I think [Sproat’s] in a really good spot right now,” O’Sullivan said. “I really do.”

The move takes freshman Pierce Coppola out of the starting trio. After setting a program record for strikeouts in a debut game in the Sunday matinee against the Liberty Flames, Coppola was slated to start on the Saturday affair against Georgia State. 

Head coach Kevin O’Sullivan made a last-minute scratch, though, citing back issues as the reason for Coppola’s absence. The freshman has not made an appearance since.

For the Hurricanes, sophomore lefty Carson Palmquist will start on the rubber Friday night. O’Sullivan worked with Palmquist on the USA baseball team, and has seen first-hand the kind of talent Florida’s bats will face under the lights.  

“That’s about as good of a matchup you’re going to get in college baseball on Friday night between Barco and Palmquist,” O’Sullivan said. “It’s going to be fun.”

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Through two appearances making up 10 innings, Palmquist has allowed just two runs and five hits, adding on 16 strikeouts. The Gators’ bats have been buzzing the past week, but they will be tested at the highest level this weekend. 

Leading the charge for Miami’s bats is sophomore CJ Kayfus. The infielder is batting .375, one of six ‘Canes to currently hit at .300 or higher, and has earned a slugging percentage of .625. Freshman Lorenzo Carrier is another name to watch for in the Miami armory, hitting .304 while touting a team-high .739 slugging percentage. His two homers ties him for the team lead. 

The Gators have some bats of their own, though, and many of them are in great form entering the weekend. Sophomore Colby Halter is riding a 10-game hitting streak this season, a streak that extends to 12 if last years’ postseason is counted, and has amassed five RBIs in his last five games. 

Sophomore Sterlin Thompson and Fabian round out the top three in the batting order, and both have been doing their part in the Gators’ recent offensive surge. In the Wednesday-night rout of the Florida A&M Rattlers, Thompson and Fabian combined for three homers and four RBIs. If the top of Florida’s lineup keeps this pace, Palmquist will have his work cut out for him Friday night.

The series marks the first weekend slate in hostile territory for the Gators, and that should set up learning experiences for a young Florida roster.

“It gets loud there, and it’s not all nice things they’re saying to you,” Fabian said. “You kind of have to drown it out and go play, but it’s definitely fun playing there.”

Florida has not been tested by top-25 caliber talent since opening weekend, a series loss to Liberty. Now, in their second “barometer” series, the Gators will make a statement with either a win or a loss.

What kind of statement that becomes will be determined in South Florida.

Contact Carson Cashion at Follow him on Twitter @CarsonCashion

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Carson Cashion

Carson Cashion is a third-year sports journalism major at UF, and the sports editor at The Alligator for the 2022 summer semester. A native of Altamonte Springs, Carson spends his free time walking his dog, Baxter, and listening to good music. He is an avid Tennessee sports fan, and eagerly awaits watching one of his teams win a championship for the first time.

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