D1 Baseball Preview: Florida International vs University of Miami

Florida International University Miami

Miami, Florida – Welcome to Round 2 of this year’s Battle for the 305 between Florida International and the University of Miami. The crosstown rivals have differing expectations but they both share the same goal of defeating one another when their schedules align. Usually a home-and-home series, the two teams will have four matchups for the first time since 2017. Back then the Panthers took three out of four. It was Mervyl Melendez’s first year of coaching at FIU and the second to last year of the Jim Morris era.

Fast forwarding to now, the programs are on different trajectories. It’s Year 1 of coach Rich Witten’s tenure at Florida International in what’s a clear rebuild after years of disappointing performances from his predecessor. Meanwhile, coach Gino DiMare is in his fifth season at Coral Gables. The fans have been clamoring for better outcomes as the Canes have yet to make it to the super regionals under DiMare’s direction. The frustration has increased due to early exits for two consecutive regionals including last year’s that was held on their home field. With plenty of baseball left, each side’s final outcomes remain unwritten.

Previously…

The first bout saw the Panthers grab an early 2-0 lead courtesy of a two-run single from Ryne Guida. The Hurricanes tied it in the third with a man-on round-tripper via Jack Scanlon. FIU retook the lead in the fourth but Miami leveled again in the fifth. UM broke the deadlock with four unanswered runs in the ninth to win it 7-3. Edgardo Villegas hit the go-ahead RBI double. He later crossed the plate himself on an error by the shortstop at first base. Jacoby Long went deep to put the game out of reach.

Ups and downs

It’s been a mixed bag for the Hurricanes. Injuries thinned the pitching staff. Their weaknesses in the starting rotation were exposed against the Florida Gators. Dropping two out of three the Canes were outscored 30-22 including mercy-ruled to end the weekend series. Unexpected midweek losses to Florida Atlantic and Jacksonville were discouraging setbacks.

UM bounced back with a great series win over No. 19 NC State, keeping it going with a big sweep the following weekend against No. 17 Virginia Tech including Saturday’s 21-6 thrashing of the Hokies. Miami hammered SEVEN homers, the fourth-most in a single game in program history.

The Canes got their revenge on FAU scoring nine unanswered runs and winning 10-5.

Karson Ligon is one of the few bright spots among the pitchers, getting promoted to Friday night ace due to Gage Ziehl’s early struggles. Ligon was batted around in his latest outing against Wake Forest. After three bad starts, Ziehl has gotten into a groove earning ACC Pitcher of the Week after a flawless performance versus NC State going a career-long eight innings pitched, four hitting the Wolfpack giving up zero runs, and punching out eight. Gage put up a similarly solid performance against Virginia Tech.

Alejandro Rosario hasn’t had a good start since Dartmouth in late February. He is currently sitting 1-3 with a 9.49 ERA. One firm constant within the bullpen is Andrew Walters. He remains lights out sporting a razor-sharp 0.93 ERA in seven appearances.

In spite of problems on the mound, the offense continues to show its power with Yohandy Morales leading the way. Blake Cyr has been abusing the ball with great showings from Zach Levenson and Villegas. CJ Kayfus was off to a slow start but broke out in a big way going ham on VT hitting 10 -for-13 during the series (.750 BA) including a trio of home runs, 8 RBIs, and a 2.137 OPS. Kayfus is scorching hot right now with a .333 batting average for the 2023 campaign. UM got swept by Wake Forest this past weekend.

Building the foundations

Florida International lost two of three versus George Mason to open the year. The blue and gold were very competitive versus the University of Missouri despite dropping three out of four the following weekend. The Panthers then won all four games versus Harvard before blanking Stetson for their second-midweek win.

At 11-6, FIU rode into their first meeting versus the Canes on an eight-game winning streak sweeping Marist College the weekend prior with UM ending the run. They’d lose two of three against Dallas Baptist in their first road series to open C-USA conference play. Although Florida International lost the slate, they were competitive in the first and third games. The next midweek contest saw them losing to FGCU 12-5. After losing the UAB series, the Panthers lost six of their last eight.

The several top performers in the lineup starting with Guida and Dante Girardi. The former is raking .351 with a .971 OPS, tied for most doubles on the team (six with Girardi), mashing four dingers, and 30 RBIs. The latter is hitting a fine .330 batting average and .877 OPS recording a home run and 12 RBIs.

Former Cane Mike Rosario adjusted to his new home batting .330 with a .942 OPS. Rosario has recorded five homers, 21 RBIs, and swiped 14 stolen bases. Adrian Figueroa is seeing a better 2023 after a down year last season hitting .323 with 19 RBIs.

Pitching wise it’s all Angel Tiburcio (2-2, 3.00 ERA and 1.19 WHIP) with opponents hitting .250 against him. For relievers, you got two decent arms in Richie Pena (5.64 ERA, 1.61 WHIP) and Daniel McAuliff (4.82 ERA, 1.50 WHIP).

Prediction

The Panthers managed to give The U a good fight the first time around. Now that the season series swings back to the Light, Miami’s bats will be difficult to contain. Both teams have very capable offenses although the Canes have much more oomph up and down the lineup. This will come down to the pitchers on the mound. The Hurricanes have already faltered in midweek games so a loss here is truthfully not a surprise. I’ll still give them the edge of winning 8-5. If UM has the lead going in the late innings, it’ll be tough to surpass Walters or even budding relievers like freshman lefty Chris Scinta. Regardless, this will be a great matchup. When these two schools go at it, it’s usually entertaining baseball.

(Visited 124 times, 1 visits today)