Bengochea becomes elder statesman

For the past two seasons, Miami Hurricane pitcher Kiki Bengochea has worked his way up in the UM pitching rotation while being tutored by some of the staff’s aces. With his junior season about to begin, Bengochea is not only moving into the role as Miami ace, but also into the role of mentor.
Bengochea headlines a young, but talented group of starting pitchers for the Hurricanes, who begin defense of their national title tonight against Tennessee at Mark Light Stadium. Although fellow junior Troy Roberson will be on the mound tonight, there’s no doubt whos is Miami’s top choice with the game on the line. The 6-2 junior is looking forward to being that man.
“I take the responsibility with open arms,” Bengochea said. “Over the years, I’ve seen guys like Tom Farmer and Brian Walker take those leadership roles and do something positive with it and I just hope that I can teach the young guys what it takes to go up to Omaha (Neb., site of the College World Series).”
After a successful three-year career at nearby Christopher Columbus High, Bengochea, who will start tomorrow afternoon’s matchup with the Volunteers, arrived at the University of Miami, almost immediately earning a spot in the starting rotation. Bengochea started 15 games for the Hurricanes in 2000, posting a 5-5 record with a 3.90 ERA.
After putting up those solid numbers, Bengochea was counted on to be a focal point of the 2001 squad, and the right-hander did not disappoint. On Feb. 24, Bengochea delivered Miami’s lone complete game of the season, shutting out FIU 2-0. He also delivered several other strong performances before finishing the year 9-4 with a 4.10 ERA, striking out 89 batters while giving up just 38 walks. Bengochea credits much of his success to some of the veterans that helped teach him.
“When you heave leadership from guys like Brian Walker and Tom Farmer, who take the time to come up and teach you the ropes, it’s nice to know what you have to do rather than be the typical sophomore or freshman who looks new out there,” Bengochea said.
He returns to action at UM after spending his second consecutive off-season pitching for Team USA. In 59 innings with the team, Bengochea compiled a 6-1 mark while maintaining a miniscule ERA under one. According to UM coach Jim Morris, Bengochea’s success with both the Hurricanes and Team USA brings high expectations for 2002.
“Kiki’s been around for a while and he’s had a strong summer with the USA team,” Morris said. “Therefore, we’re counting on him to be the anchor of the pitching staff, but he’s talented enough to do that.”
Pitching Coach “Lazer” Collazo, who has been impressed with Bengochea’s growth the past two seasons, also places a heavy burden on his ace this year.
“He’s got to be the workhorse of the staff,” Collazo said. “He’s a guy who we’re counting on seven strong innings every time he goes out there.”
Bengochea headlines a pitching staff that includes Roberson, who missed all of 2001 following elbow surgery, and sophomore T.J. Prunty, whose 1.29 ERA led the staff last season. Sophomore Dan Touchet and freshman Brandon Camardese may also see some starts. Although the staff hasn’t piled up much experience, Bengochea expects them to pile up some victories.
“We should expect a lot of good things from our staff,” Bengochea said. “When healthy, Troy is one of the best out there and T.J. is a top prospect in the country.”
Overall, Bengochea is very enthusiastic about taking over the No. 1 role and is just looking forward to starting the 2002 campaign.
“I’m really excited for the season,” Bengochea said. “We got a great bunch of guys and it’s just fun to finally come out here.”