Former major league baseball great and current San Diego State head coach Tony Gwynn may have brought the television cameras out to last weekend’s series against UM, but it was the Hurricanes that provided the theatrics – sweeping the three game series and jumping seven spots in the national rankings.
Now Miami is looking to keep its winning streak alive this weekend when it meets The Citadel in a three game series at Mark Light Field. And they’re feeling confident.
Last weekend, the ‘Canes relied on effective outings from their starting pitchers, plus a reliable bullpen, and timely hitting to take all three games of the series with the Aztecs. The players refused to let Gwynn’s presence and all of the media attention that followed distract them from the task at hand.
“It was definitely exciting to have all three games on television because of Tony Gwynn,” reliever J.D. Cockroft said. “It was great to see so much interest in the series, but we had to do whatever it took to win.”
The sweep was also important because the ‘Canes moved up in the national polls.
“With the wins against San Diego State we jumped from 20th to 13th in the USA Today poll,” head coach Jim Morris said. “It’s nice to get some respect after beating a well-respected program.”
Cockroft had an especially successful weekend as the junior helped the ‘Canes escape with a win on Sunday by replacing Shawn Valdez-Fauli in the seventh inning and proceeding to mow down three consecutive batters with two runners on base.
Despite being thrown into pressure situations throughout the early portion of the season, Cockroft has not wilted and looks forward to closing out games.
“I like being thrown in there late in the game,” Cockroft said. “I enjoy being the one to determine the outcome of a game, and against San Diego State I was able to come in during the seventh inning on Friday and Sunday.”
Morris has been impressed with Cockroft’s versatility and reliability.
“J.D. is the type of pitcher that can serve any role,” Morris said. “He can start, come out of the bullpen…he just helps us get wins.”
Before this weekend’s series against The Citadel, the ‘Canes traveled to Jupiter, Florida on Wednesday to take on the Florida Marlins. Florida won the game 5-1 at Roger Dean Stadium.
Sophomore Ryan Dixon started Wednesday and threw three innings for the ‘Canes. Dixon viewed the exhibition as merely another chance to throw.
“I’m looking at the Marlins as just another team,” Dixon said. “I need to work on hitting my spots and work on my mechanics.”
The Citadel Bulldogs enter this weekend’s series with a 2-3 record, but the ‘Canes refuse to let that deceive them. Last week the Bulldogs crushed North Carolina State 15-2.
“The Citadel is a feisty club,” Morris said. “They always are tough year in and year out. They have great team discipline and they play hard.”
Despite having a limited scouting report on the Bulldogs, the players are aware of Morris’s warnings and will treat this series like the Florida series.
“Coach Morris has let us know that they’re scrappy,” Cockroft said. “They are a very good team and they’ll be tough to beat.”
Despite the performance by the pitching staff this past weekend, Dixon indicated that the pitchers still have a long way to go.
“We are definitely not satisfied with how we’ve been doing,” Dixon said. “The staff as a whole can always get better. We would like to pitch shutouts in all three games of the series.”
After this weekend’s series, the ‘Canes have three important games at Tennessee. Morris is confident, however, that his players won’t even have the Volunteers on their minds this weekend.
“We don’t even talk about the Tennessee series,” Morris said. “We’ll be ready this weekend. We don’t take any opponents for granted.”
-Eric Kalis can be reached at email@example.com