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Downgraded: Florida baseball storms back to take series from Miami in Coral Gables

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Despite a Friday night loss, Florida took yet another series in its rivalry with Miami.

COLLEGE BASEBALL: MAR 05 Florida at Miami Photo by Samuel Lewis/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Getting on base was no issue for the Florida Gators in this weekend’s Miami series — they tallied seven hits in the first game, six in the second, and nine in the third. They also totaled 23 walks, certainly a concern for Miami pitching. (Florida pitching only gave up eight walks for comparison).

But Friday’s loss for Florida resulted from failures to advance runners in scoring position as much or more than starting pitcher Hunter Barco’s inability to recreate the success of his brilliant first two starts, in which he recorded 23 strikeouts and posted a 0.75 earned run average.

And when the Gators had finished storming back from it on Sunday, they had well and truly downgraded the Hurricanes.

Barco’s trouble on Friday began in the middle innings: Miami scored two runs each off the left-hander in the fourth and fifth. Those came via a two-run homer by third baseman Yohandy Morales and then, some small ball in the fifth — Miami recorded a single, two productive groundouts, another single, and then a double to produce two runs. In the Gators’ half of the fifth, they got the bases loaded but did not produce runs.

Florida was ultimately unable to erase that 4-0 deficit, scoring only two runs in the seventh inning. Outfielders Sterlin Thompson and Wyatt Langford put Florida on the scoreboard, each with an RBI single, making the score 4-2. Thompson leads the team in RBIs at fifteen.

But Miami scored another run in the seventh off some sloppy play by Florida, and the game ended at that score, wiping out Florida’s seven-game win-streak.

On Saturday, things changed. RISP failure found the Hurricanes, who went 1-for-8 with runners in scoring position. They also committed three errors, which Florida took advantage of — a passed ball and a throwing error by the catcher allowed Colby Halter to score after a leadoff double in the first inning.

Starter Brandon Sproat hardly needed more support than Halter provided in that first frame, and gave Florida the best chance for a win possible, keeping a shutout through his 6.1 innings pitched.

He only has two earned runs on the season in 15.1 innings pitched, despite 10 hits and five walks, and pitched out of separate two-on, one-out situations in the third and fifth innings on Saturday. It’s likely that his luck in that regard will take a turn, but there’s no denying he’s been a solid piece in the Florida rotation.

In the third inning, Halter again benefited from an error. He struck out, but reached first anyways. Then Jud Fabian launched a home run, making the score 3-0.

After a slow start, Fabian is showing the power he was known for last season. He has four home runs in the past six games, after having zero in the first seven.

Miami scratched out one unearned run in the eighth, cutting the Gators’ lead to 3-1, but Florida slammed the door shut in the ninth with a crooked number. A three-run bomb by first baseman Kendrick Calilao — who’s also off to a slow start, slashing .216/.293/.432 on the season — provided most of those runs, and the Gators won 8-1.

After that big half-inning on Saturday night, Florida secured the series on Sunday with a not-as-close-as-the-score 11-3 win over Miami. The Gators walked a substantial 14 times and had nine hits, offensive production that the Hurricanes were unable to match. And Timmy Manning had his best start of the young season, lasting 4.1 innings with three hits and two walks while fanning five Hurricanes.

All told, Florida struck out 33 Miami batters on the weekend, with each of Barco, Sproat, and Manning getting five Ks in their starts — and helping the Gators turn the familiar South Florida call-out of a strikeout...

...into its own punchline for the series’ punchouts — and victory.

Redshirt freshman reliever Blake Purnell had two solid relief appearances during the series. He pitched 5.2 innings with two hits, one walk, and zero earned runs, and did almost as much as Manning on Sunday, striking out four in 3.2 IP. He’s been stellar for the Gators so far, with 14 innings pitched and the second-lowest WHIP (walks + hits/innings pitched) on the team.

And the Gators mostly got their comeback completed without clouting the ball. Of the 11 runs scored by Florida on Sunday, only one came from a home run, a solo shot by Calilao; in fact, the whole series was light on home runs by Florida — notable, since they’ve been home run-heavy in the early season.

Prior to this series, the Gators had an average rate of 2.4 home runs per game. In Miami, they got a total of three — not that it interfered with their ability to score runs.

And after dropping a close and hard-fought season-opening series to the Hurricanes in 2021, Florida resumed its dominance of the recent run of the rivalry with the ‘Canes in Coral Gables this weekend. The Gators have won seven of their last eight series against Miami — and since a Hurricanes series sweep in Gainesville in 2009, Florida is an astounding 36-11 against the four-time national champions in its last 47 meetings.