Miami, FL – When the schedules were released back in November of last year, both teams circled the dates. One looked to continue having the upper hand, the other wished to flip the script. For the fans, it was the latest chapter in a rivalry spanning beyond baseball. Opening Weekend was over, the time had come: The Sunshine State Scuffle, a titanic clash between college baseball’s #1 vs. #2. After a hard-fought game, the Florida Gators came out on top, as they beat the Miami Hurricanes 2-1 in extras to take round one of this weekend’s marquee matchup.
Spit Hot Fire
Both teams sent out their aces and they didn’t disappoint. The night turned cool but Brian Van Belle was on fire, doing exactly what was expected of him. Tossing seven strong frames, the righty allowed a single unearned run, scattering four hits and fanning nine in front of a sold-out crowd.
Tommy Mace, however, matched his counterpart inning for inning. Fresh off a 12-0 drubbing of Kent State, Miami’s bats went ice cold managing three hits. It was a pitchers duel that would draw in each team’s bullpen. The sqauds had to deal with the elements, a strong North-Northwest wind made sure hits stayed inside the park. The opening game lived up to the hype, treating fans to a close contest the entire evening. Sitting up in the press box you could feel the energy in the stands, from both sides. The mob as I like the call them gave a warm welcome to the opposing team, heckling the Gators whenever they were up to bat or on the mound.
Van Belle gave up just one walk and it may have cost him. He ran into trouble in the fifth after the Gators got two men on via a base hit and a bunt single. Nathan Hickey drew the crucial ball four to load the bases with Kris Armstrong coming up to bat. Armstrong smacked a hard one right into Anthony Vilar’s glove but in trying to turn two, the ball sailed past Tyler Paige allowing Cory Acton to score. The former Broward College athlete got out of the jam when Josh Rivera grounded into a double play. Raymond Gil scooped up the hit tagging third and fired it across the diamond to Alex Toral.
The Canes offense may have been limited, but even then, there were chances.
Their first opportunity came in that same inning. Gabe Rivera reached first on an error complemented by a walk from JP Gates. With both runners maneuvering themselves into scoring position, the Hurricanes could not only knotted it up but taken the lead. Mace showed why he’s Florida’s ace by turning the page on Paige, striking him out. Things were better in the following frame.
Jordan Lala led off hitting a two-bagger down the right-field line before making it to third on a wild pitch. Adrian Del Castillo was intentionally walked, opening up for Gil to hit a fly ball deep enough to center for Lala to cross home on the sacrifice. It wasn’t flashy but it evened the score.
The Light was wild after @jordan_lala_ scored the tying run.
UF 1 | Miami 1 | B7 pic.twitter.com/nlOEF7cZQ5
— Canes Baseball (@CanesBaseball) February 22, 2020
An Endurance Sport
As the game wore on, it became readily apparent it was going to come down to whose bullpen was going to blink first. Both starters tossed seven frames, making way for their respective relievers to carry on. Gates, starting the game as the DH, tossed two in relief keeping Florida under control and eventually allowing the Gators to beat the Hurricanes. Tyler Keysor briefly made an appearance, facing three hitters although he walked one.
Again, the Canes had a chance to put up more runs, this time in the eighth. Vilar got walked and moved into scoring position on a wild pitch. He was left stranded as Del Castillo struck out looking. The fans stayed fired up all night long, doing the wave late game and arm claps in rhythm to the music blaring through the stadium’s speakers. Not sure if it was to stay warm or stay loose… or both. They rallied to their team chanting “Let’s go Canes!” showing loyalty and faith. Then during the 10th, a key call was made by the umps that impacted Miami’s fortunes. Tony Jenkins laid down a great bunt, resulting in an error at first base by Florida. Pinch-runner Chet Moore who subbed in for Gates moved over to third in the play. Miami was on the verge of a walk-off.
However, the umps immediately ruled interference.
Jenkins ran inside the base path and despite the howls of protest from the home crowd, the officials got it right. It was a big break for the Gators, eventually turning away the Canes. Florida broke the deadlock in the 11th as Jacob Young doubled down the leftfield line for the deciding run. There would be no comebacks this night. Despite losing, the Hurricanes seemed unphased and were already itching for the next game.
On to the Next One
“I’m excited to watch our entire team play because adversity builds character,” Van Belle said. “This situation is a tough pill to swallow but I think we’re going to come out with some fire tomorrow.”
Game one goes to the Gators.
We're back at it tomorrow, first pitch at 7 p.m. pic.twitter.com/I23u1YptR4
— Canes Baseball (@CanesBaseball) February 22, 2020
Now into my third season covering the Hurricanes, this was hands down one of the most competitive games I’ve witnessed at this level. No doubt this set the tone for the rest of the series with the top seed and of course bragging rights on the line as the Gators beat Hurricanes in game one of this weekend’s series.
Gus Bus Award
I like great pitching and considering how locked in Brian Van Belle was, this was an easy decision.
You’re Killing Me Smalls
Although no one player is to blame, collectively Miami’s offense will be in this dubious honor. Tipping my cap off to Mr. Tommy Mace.