(Extended version of today's baseball story in The Herald)
Florida's two-star athlete, Riley Cooper, already defeated Miami in football this year. Today he takes his shot at the 'Canes in baseball.
GAINESVILLE -- Beat the Miami Hurricanes twice in one year — that’s the dream of every Florida Gator worth his long and jagged teeth. Riley Cooper gets his chance to double chomp the ‘Canes on Friday.
Best known as a receiver for the University of Florida’s national championship football team, Cooper is also a right fielder for the Gators’ baseball team. Beginning at 6:30 p.m. on Friday, No. 12 Florida (5-0) hosts No.10 Miami (3-1) in the two teams’ annual early season series. Just as he did on the football field last September, Cooper [PICTURED] is looking forward to knocking off the Hurricanes on the baseball diamond.
“Whatever team it is, I want to beat them,” Cooper said. “No matter if it’s the ‘Canes or Florida State or anybody but this is going to be a big weekend for us and I’m real excited to get out there and get after it.”
Miami won the annual rivalry series last season in Coral Gables, winning two of three games. The roles are somewhat reversed this year. This time around, Miami is the younger of the two teams playing away from home for the first time. Florida will need the home-field advantage on Friday against mighty left-hander Chris Hernandez (1-0). The Gators will counter with their best pitcher, senior right-hander Patrick Keating (1-0).
“I think it’s going to be a good match-up,” Keating said. “Hernandez is a good pitcher and they have a good team. It’s going to come down to who executes and sticks with their plan and whoever pitches the best.”
Confidence is high at McKethan Stadium after the Gators swept their season opening series against No.16 Louisville and obliterated Eastern Michigan on Tuesday and Wednesday. Wednesday’s 17-6 win was highlighted by Florida’s first three home runs of the season, including a towering drive to left from Cooper.
“I lost the ball when it went over the trees,” said UF third-baseman Josh Adams. “I have no idea where it landed. We’re used to seeing that in B.P., so for [Cooper] to finally put it together and get his first one, that’s definitely good for him.”
Cooper, a 15th round draft pick by the Phillies out of high school, spent most of his first two years at Florida focusing on football. He has given more time to baseball this year and it’s beginning to show on the field. Cooper is batting .389 through five games with two doubles and a home run.
Over the summer, Cooper [PICTURED] played in the Valley League in Virginia and was rated the league’s top prospect. He took time off from baseball during football’s regular season but started hitting again after the Gators’ SEC championship game in Atlanta. He practiced baseball in the mornings and prepared for the football national championship game in the afternoons.
“This is the closest I’ve been to playing year round,” Cooper said. “I play football, I guess, seven months out of the year. It’s definitely fun but it’s a lot of work, trying to keep your grades up.”
There is a plus side, of course. Getting a chance to beat Miami twice in one year.
“It’s going to be an emotional weekend for everybody,” said Keating, Florida’s ace. “It’s going to be an important weekend for us. ... We’re going to have to stay calm but get excited at the same time.”
GAME 1, 6:30 Fri.: Miami LHP Chris Hernandez (1-0, 1.50 ERA) vs. Florida RHP Patrick Keating (1-0, 2.57 ERA)
GAME 2, 2 p.m. Sat.: Miami RHP David Gutierrez (0-0, 1.80 ERA) vs. Florida LHP Alex Panteliodis (1-0, 3.00 ERA)
GAME 3, noon Sun.: Miami LHP Iden Nazario (1-0, 4.50 ERA) vs. Florida LHP Nick Maronde (0-0, 0.00 ERA)
PLAYERS TO WATCH
JOSH ADAMS [pictured] , UF third-baseman: Adams is the Gators' utility infielder. He can play everywhere and oftentimes does. A sophomore, Adams is also one of the Gators' best hitters. He's batting .500 through five games with a double and a triple.
ON MIAMI: "It's a big rivalry," Adams said. "We definitely have a bad taste in our mouth from last year, so we've just been preparing this whole week. It'll be fun."
BUDDY MUNROE, UF catcher: Munroe gets the start today, catching for UF ace Patrick Keating. A Miami native, Munroe is batting a team-best .556.
MORE ON COOPER
Remember Cooper's long hair during the national football championship? Well, the long-hair experiment is official over for Cooper. By order of the king, UF baseball coach Kevin O'Sullivan, Cooper cut trimmed his locks before the baseball season.
"It's off," Cooper said, lifting his cap. "Baseball is a different game and [Sullivan] wasn't having the long hair, so he's the boss."