After a 42-24 (17-13 ACC) 2006 campaign and fifth-place finish in the College World Series, the University of Miami baseball team will look to go further in 2007.
The Hurricanes, in pursuit of their 35th straight NCAA postseason appearance, will face 22 opponents, including 10 teams that made the NCAA tournament last year and 15 squads that posted winning records.
Miami is ranked second in the nation by Baseball America, and is among only six ACC teams ranked in the top 20.
The Hurricanes road to Omaha starts with important regular season series that may give an indication of where the Hurricanes stand this season.
UCLA (Feb. 9-11)
Miami’s first test of the season comes against the 13th ranked Bruins. The ‘Canes took two out of three in L.A. last season, but UCLA returns two starting pitchers and five starting position players.
at Florida (Feb. 16-18)
Miami wants revenge from last season, after the Gators handed the Hurricanes a three-game sweep in Coral Gables. First baseman Matt Laporta, the SEC Player of the Year last season, bolsters the offense, while starter Bryan Augenstein anchors the rotation.
at North Carolina (Mar. 9-11)
Miami opens ACC play against the 2006 NCAA runner-up Tar Heels. Fifth-ranked North Carolina returns experienced closer Andrew Carignan, ACC batting champion Josh Horton and senior hurler Robert Woodard. However, they do lose Andrew Miller, the nation’s top collegiate pitcher.
at Virginia (Mar. 23-25)
Miami is 5-4 over the last three seasons against the Cavaliers. The currently ninth-ranked Virginia brings back two 10 game winners, Sean Doolittle and Jacob Thompson, as well as outfielder Brandon Marsh, who had a .380 batting average.
at Clemson (Mar. 30- Apr. 1)
The ACC champions from a season ago have won the first six games since Miami joined the conference. The third-ranked Tigers are led by first baseman Andy D’Alessio, who had 23 homeruns and 85 RBI in 2005. Clemson was forced to replace three starting pitchers with a talented but inexperienced unit.
Georgia Tech (Apr. 6-8)
Coming off a College World Series appearance, the 12th-ranked Yellow Jackets feature catcher Matt Wieters, who produced 15 homeruns and 71 RBI last season. Georgia Tech does lose their top two starters, Blake Wood and Lee Hyde, who were a combined 17-4.
Florida State (Apr 27-29)
Bryan Henry (9-4, 2.88) and Luke Tucker (9 saves, 1.06) give the 18th-ranked Seminoles a reliable starter and closer.
Dennis Guinn returns after totaling 12 homeruns and 69 RBI. Florida State has not won a series against Miami since 2003.
Although the Hurricanes lost seven players to the MLB draft, Miami brings in a recruiting class ranked second by Collegiate Baseball Newspaper.
Of the 31 players on the roster, 22 are freshmen and sophomores, and three of the other nine are transfers.
The Hurricanes may lose experience from the departures of Jon Jay, Danny Valencia and Eddy Rodriguez but do return promising sophomores Jemile Weeks, Yonder Alonso, Dennis Raben and Blake Tekotte as well as veterans Roger Tomas, Richard O’Brien and Gus Menendez.
Miami’s incoming class will have to adapt to a conference that produced four College World Series teams in 2006.
“The ACC is much tougher than I ever envisioned going back in there,” Head Coach Jim Morris said. “It’s a great conference, a battle every weekend with some great ballparks and tough crowds to play in.”
Morris said the team strengths going into the season are its starting rotation and defense.
Scott Maine, Danny Gil and Manny Miguelez provide a veteran rotation, and Morris said he may have his best defensive club ever at Miami.
The Hurricanes’ weakness is clearly their bullpen, after losing veterans Chris Perez, Andrew Lane and Jon McLean.
Morris said the Hurricanes must address their biggest question mark: the closer situation.
“A lot of games are won late,” Morris said. “If you want to go to Omaha and win, you got to have a good closer.”
Miami opens the season hosting Mercer on Feb. 2 at Mark Light Field as they work toward their 5th College World Series Championship.
Alex Kushel may be contacted at email@example.com.