Florida and Miami have met each other many times on many diamonds before.
But never like this, in each team's opening game of a College World Series.
So this game (8 p.m., ESPN or WatchESPN) is unequivocally the most important in a series between the Gators and Hurricanes that dates back to 1947. The only team Florida baseball has played more often than Miami is Georgia; the only other team to have beaten the Gators so many times (or to have played more than 200 games against Florida and hold a winning record) is Florida State.
Unfortunately for the Hurricanes, recent history is on the Gators' side:
Since 2010, Florida is 17-5 against the Hurricanes, losing just one series in Coral Gables in 2014, and since 2009, the Gators are a perfect 6-0 against the 'Canes in NCAA Tournament play. Under Kevin O'Sullivan, whose tenure dates to 2008, Florida is 20-10 against Miami — and that includes a Miami sweep in Gainesville in 2009.
That 6-0 mark was compiled from 2009 to 2011, when Florida welcomed Miami to Gainesville for two regionals and a Super Regional, and it was earned by outscoring the Hurricanes 51-20 in those contests. Two were decided by one run, and one went to extra innings, but the Gators doubled up the Hurricanes in each of those postseason "series."
Miami, to be fair, has the edge in Omaha experience — whatever that's worth, for two teams with a combined two players (Florida's Bobby Poyner and Josh Tobias) who have played in College World Series games before. The 'Canes have four CWS titles to Florida's zero, and have a history of success against in-state rival Florida State in Omaha, knocking off the Seminoles in the 1999 championship game.
But Florida has the edge in games between the two teams played this year, having taken two of three from the 'Canes in a series in Gainesville in February. Both teams were essentially missing the aces who will start tonight: Miami's Andrew Suarez was scratched from his start, and Florida's Logan Shore didn't record an out before leaving with an injury.
And Florida has seen and beaten Suarez. He started in the final game of a three-game series that Miami took 2-1 in 2014, and Florida touched him up for four earned runs in the bottom of the first, all he would give up (on 11 hits) in seven innings of work in a 6-4 Gators win. Shore pitched in that game, too — as did A.J. Puk, Kirby Snead, Ryan Harris, Danny Young, and Eric Hanhold, or basically half of Florida's current starting rotation and bullpen — but it was senior Karsten Whitson who started it.
And, curiously, the surprise starter in tonight's lineup for Florida, Ryan Larson — who supplants Jeremy Vasquez, hitting .600 in NCAA Tournament play, in right field — was very good in that game. He went 2-for-4, with both of his hits coming against Larson, and one driving in a run.
Larson being used in place of Vasquez probably has more to do with defense being important in the relatively cavernous TD Ameritrade Park than a sample size that small, but it's worth noting he's had success not just against Miami, but against Suarez specifically.
The winners of Saturday night's game will meet Virginia, which topped Arkansas in a matinee matchup, on Monday, for full control of the winners' bracket on their side of the CWS draw. The losers? They'll be one loss from an early departure from Omaha.
It would be a good time for these Gators to get up and go — like they have all postseason.