OMAHA, Neb. (AP) — Miami and Florida have met 241 times on the baseball diamond, but never at the College World Series. That changes Saturday night when the powerful programs from the Sunshine State square off at TD Ameritrade Park.
The Hurricanes (49-15) are back in Omaha for the 24th time and first since 2008, making this the longest gap between appearances since they started showing up here in 1974. The Gators (46-19) are at the CWS for the ninth time, the fourth since 2010.
Neither team has played a non-conference opponent more often. Florida leads the series 127-113-1 and has won 19 of the last 24, including two of three in February in Gainesville.
“It’s a really big advantage for both of us to have seen each other’s lineup before,” Gators freshman star JJ Schwartz said. “We know what to expect. There are going to be no surprises. It’s a big rivalry, so I think we’re going to come out and play the best we can.”
Virginia (39-22), the 2014 national runner-up, plays Arkansas (40-23) in the Bracket 1 opener on Saturday afternoon. Bracket 2 games Sunday pit TCU (49-13) against LSU (53-10) in the afternoon and Cal State Fullerton (39-23) against defending national champion Vanderbilt (47-19) at night.
The Hurricanes-Gators matchup figures to be a good test for the new flat-seam baseball, which has sparked a 44 percent increase in home runs this season.
Miami’s David Thompson shares the NCAA home run lead with 19, teammate Zack Collins has hit 15 and the team total of 62 ranks 11th nationally (and is second to Vanderbilt’s 66 among CWS teams). Florida’s Schwartz has 18 homers, Harrison Bader has 15 and the team has 60 to rank 13th.
“The ball was carrying a little bit today, and there were a few balls in the seats,” Miami coach Jim Morris said Friday after his team’s batting practice. “I like the home run. I don’t want to go back to the `90s, where pop-ups were going out, but it’s a great thing, a beautiful park.”
Some things to watch as the CWS begins its 66th run in Omaha:
PITCHING MATCHUPS: Miami left-hander Andy Suarez (9-1, 2.96 ERA) will go against Florida’s Logan Shore (9-6, 2.50) and Virginia’s Connor Jones (7-2, 2.96) will face Arkansas’ Trey Killian (3-4, 4.74). Sunday starters: TCU’s Preston Morrison (11-3, 2.55) vs. LSU’s Jared Poche’ (9-1, 2.91) and Cal State Fullerton’s Thomas Eshelman (8-5, 1.58) vs. Vanderbilt’s Carson Fulmer (13-2, 1.82).
KIRBY READY: Virginia ace Nathan Kirby, who strained a back muscle two months ago, should be available by Monday. Kirby started two CWS games last year, when he was a consensus All-American. Coach Brian O’Connor said the left-hander looked good throwing a 40-pitch simulated scrimmage Monday.
O’Connor said he doubted Kirby would be used as a starter. “In all fairness to him,” the coach said, “I just don’t think he’s built up for that.”
TIGERS BETTER PREPARED: LSU and its fans seemed to take over Rosenblatt Stadium in the days when the Tigers were winning their six national championships, the last one in 2009. The Tigers went 0-2 in their first appearance at TD Ameritrade in 2013, and coach Paul Mainieri blames himself. There was a folksy vibe to Rosenblatt; TD Ameritrade has more of a corporate feel.
“It was much different than the atmosphere we experienced at Rosenblatt, in a lot of little ways,” Mainieri said. “A lot of it caught me by surprise. I don’t feel I had the team as prepared as I should have had them. I had built up the experience of Omaha so much that some of the things that had changed were a little bit of a letdown for the kids, quite frankly.”
OUT OF THE VOLS’ SHADOW: The 2014 national title and three CWS appearances since 2011 have gone a long way in building Vanderbilt’s brand in Tennessee.
“You couldn’t buy a Vanderbilt hat back in 2002 and 2003,” coach Tim Corbin said. “I remember going to a sporting goods store and asking, and it was a lot of (Volunteers) orange. There was nothing with black and gold. So I think that part has been fun to see.”
MAKING RIGHT MOVES: Cal State Fullerton has gone 18-3 since a loss on April 25 left the Titans 21-20. Titans coach Rick Vanderhook offered a list of reasons for the turnaround, notably, “I made them shave and get haircuts.”
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