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17 February 2013

Young players step up in first series against Rutgers

It’s not quite the baby boomer generation, but there’s a youth movement taking place in the Hurricanes dugout.

With a roster that features 12 freshmen, six sophomores, two transfers and two starting pitchers that, before Saturday, had never made a collegiate start, it was uncertain how the young guys on the team would handle a bigger workload. With a series sweep over Rutgers under their belts, the optimism has started turning into confidence.

Nine first-time Hurricanes took the field over the weekend, with many of them contributing to the team’s success both offensively and defensively. Coach Jim Morris expected big things from his three new starting infielders, and was impressed with their efforts.

“Lopez had a good day, he had three hits. Our middle guys played good solid defense. David Thompson got a big hit for us. Hernandez has been very solid for us,” Morris said. “Those are the three rookies that we’ve had to play at this point. I thought our hitting, we swung a lot better in the second game. We’ve got to try and put pressure, we’re not a power team. We have to try and do some things, hit and run.”

In the series against the Scarlet Knights, Hernandez hit 3-8 for a .375 average with a hit in each game and an RBI. Lopez reached base in all three of his plate appearances during Saturday’s first game and scored a run.

But perhaps most impressive has been the addition of the heralded freshman first baseman Thompson. Despite only having two hits on the season, he leads the team in RBIs with five, often helping Miami score in little ways that don’t show up on the scorecard.

After driving in a run on a groundout earlier in the third inning on Sunday, Thompson hit a high popup to second baseman Nick Favatella. What should have been a routine out became more important when Favatella lost the ball in the sun. Thompson, rather than assume he was out, charged safely towards second base and would go on to score in that inning.

“To be honest I was going to pinch run for him,” Morris said of Thompson’s tenacity. “I couldn’t find the heart to do it after he busted it getting from home to second on a popup. But the other guys, they see that.”

Thompson admittedly felt a little anxious prior to his first game, but he was able to appreciate the moment.

“I was definitely a little nervous at first, but it’s what I’ve dreamt of my whole life growing up in Miami and seeing the Canes play. It’s a real blessing to be able to come out and play with these guys,” he said. “It felt good to produce a little bit and hopefully keep driving in some more runs.”

In all, six new Canes recorded their first hit over the weekend.

Before the season started, the weekend pitching rotation offered its own share of challenges. With Bryan Radziewski and Eric Whaley, the team’s No. 1 and No. 2 pitchers, out due to injury, the weekend responsibilities were left to sophomore Chris Diaz, junior Javi Salas and sophomore Andrew Suarez.

Diaz last season had primarily come out of the bullpen and only had two career starts to his name. Salas had the most experience of the group, serving as the team’s midweek starter for most of the year. Suarez was making his first start after recovering from surgery last year.

Combined, the trio pitched 17 innings of scoreless baseball over the weekend, with 12 strikeouts and two unearned runs given up over 14 hits, keeping the staff’s ERA at a perfect 0.00.

“These young guys are getting their feet wet playing more, pitchers and hitters,” Morris said. “They’re only going to get better and that’s what you got to have. We’re going to be better pitching wise when we get [Radziewski] and Whaley back in two to four weeks.”

Despite the top two guys being out, Salas said it was going to be up to the younger guys to get the job done until they return.

“We don’t make any excuses. Right now it’s the next guy up, and when you’re called to do your job you got to do your job. We all play the same game,” he said. “We really miss B-Rad and Whaley, and they’re going to be a big part of the team when they’re healthy and back. For right now, we just take the mentality that we’re a little bit down, but we’re not going to make any excuse. Those are two horses that we’re missing, but we’re not going to stop.”