BY GEORGE RICHARDS
GAINESVILLE – The day before the NCAA super regional started, Miami catcher Yasmani Grandal said that Florida's pitchers should be worried about the Hurricanes bats.
Florida coach Kevin O'Sullivan quickly forwarded Grandal's comments to ace pitcher Alex Panteliodis.
“That's just more fuel for the tank,'' Panteliodis said Friday night, just moments after he completed a three-hit gem to lift the host Gators to a 7-2 victory over the Hurricanes in the opener of the best-of-3 series.
Grandal, coincidentally, accounted for both of Miami's runs with a homer to right in the fourth. Aside from that big swing, however, the Hurricanes bats were very quiet against the sophomore lefty.
“They totally dominated us in every phase of the game,'' said Miami coach Jim Morris. “They were just outstanding. We walked a few guys, made two errors. But we got dominated by their pitcher. He pitched very, very well.''
The best-of-three series resumes Saturday at 7 (ESPN2). If Miami loses, its season is over. With a victory, the Gators would advance to the College World Series in Omaha, Neb., for the sixth time in school history.
Lefty Chris Hernandez (10-3) is the scheduled starter for Miami (43-19). The Hurricanes can hope their ace pitches partially as well as Florida's did. Panteliodis handcuffed Miami during his previous start against the Canes in March. He did so again Friday.
The Hurricanes collected just two runs off three hits as Panteliodis (11-2) struck out a career-high 12 and faced just three batters over the minimum.
Panteliodis retired 11 straight Hurricanes going into the ninth inning – and he put down Frankie Ratcliff, Scott Lawson and Grandal in order. Panteliodis struck out four of the final six Canes he faced.
The Gators (46-15) have won five of the past six against the Hurricanes dating to last year's Gainesville Regional.
Senior David Gutierrez, who was the winning pitcher when Miami won its lone game against the Gators during a three game set in March, held Florida scoreless through the opening two innings. It appeared he would continue that in the third.
With bases loaded and two outs, Florida's Brian Johnson lined out to shortstop Stephen Perez. Only third base umpire Phil Benson said Perez didn't catch the ball on the fly, all runners were safe and Jon Pigott scored the first run of the night. Miami coach Jim Morris argued the decision and the four umpires discussed it but did not overturn the call.
“I didn't see it very well, but Stephen Perez was very definitive that he caught the ball,'' said Morris. “The only guy who could have seen it was the third base umpire. He asked for help and they all agreed with him. Big call. They got a hit and two more runs.''
Mike Zunino then came up to the plate and singled into center, bringing two more runs in – including Austin Maddox, who reached on an error by Perez earlier in the inning – to make it 3-0.
The Hurricanes bounced right back in the fourth and got two of the runs back when Grandal pounced on a pitch from Panteliodis, driving it opposite field and over the right field fence to drive in Scott Lawson and make it a 3-2 game.
“I thought we got the momentum back with that home run,'' said Grandal. “He did a good job keeping his composure.''
Only Florida would get three more in the bottom of the frame, with UM second baseman Frankie Ratcliff helping out. With runners on and no outs, Nolan Fontana grounded into what should have been a double play; but Ratcliff bobbled the ball allowing all runners to advance. With bases loaded and no outs, Florida made it 4-2 on a grounder to Ratcliff, then broke it open on a two-run single by Maddox.
Gutierrez took the loss, his third of the season, with one of the six runs surrendered under his watch credited as earned. Gutierrez was replaced in the fifth by Jason Santana. Florida's Tyler Thompson, the second batter to face Santana, made it a 7-2 game when he hit a solo homer to right.
The Hurricanes have won six of the previous nine super regionals they have participated in since the format began in 1999 – and it's obvious the Canes like the cozy confines of Coral Gables.
Miami has won all five super regionals at home and only one of four played on the road. The Hurricanes have never won the opening game of a super regional on the road. In Miami's most recent road super regional in 2006, the Hurricanes bounced back from an opening night loss to win two straight against host Mississippi and advance to the CWS.
“The good news is that it's two out of three,'' Morris said. “We have to come out ready to play.''