Miami baseball drops out of top 25 rankings

With the Miami Hurricanes record at 11-11 and UCLA coming to town this weekend, Head Coach Jim Morris is looking for an immediate turnaround, and he is calling on his veterans to lead the way.

“Our veterans do need to step up and we need to find some leadership,” Morris said. “I can say all the things that I want to say, but the point is our team needs to play better right now, and that starts with the older guys.”

The Hurricanes lost two out of three games this weekend against Rutgers, marking the first time Miami has dropped consecutive series at Mark Light Stadium since 1988. Sunday’s 9-5 loss also knocked Miami out of the Baseball America top 25 for the first time under Morris’s tenure. The last time the Hurricanes failed to appear in the poll was May 24, 1993. The players weren’t happy about the news, but remained optimistic.

“It’s frustrating that we’ve dropped out of the polls, but we’re still in the first third of the season,” said shortstop Javy Rodriguez . “We still have a lot of time to improve and to get back where we should be.”

Miami lost 13 players from last season’s national championship squad, and that has impacted the team in all aspects. The Hurricanes have been sloppy in the field, committing 48 errors, almost twice as many as their opponents. Junior third baseman Kevin Howard, who committed just 13 errors last season as an everyday player, already has nine this season, while Rodriguez and senior Matt Dryer have seven errors a piece. Morris has continued to tinker with the lineup, but the players refuse to attribute that to their defensive woes.

“We practice every day with the same group of guys,” Rodriguez said. “So, I think we’re just not making the plays as often as we did the last couple of years.”

After a slow start, the Hurricanes have improved at the plate, posting a .319 team average. However, Miami has struggled to find a permanent fix at both first base and behind the plate. Sophomore first baseman/designated hitter Haas Pratt have struggled to the tune of a .247 average with just one home run, while the catching duo of Eric San Pedro and Greg Dini have combined to hit .215 in 12 starts between them.

“Anytime you’re not winning, you’ve got to try and make changes and find the right combination,” Morris said. “It’s pretty evident that we haven’t found that yet and we are continue to try and tinker the lineup and leave the players that are hot in the lineup.”

Finally, the pitching staff, for the most part, have not gotten the job done, as the team has a 5.45 ERA after 22 games. Junior Troy Roberson and sophomore T.J. Prunty have posted decent numbers as the No. 1 and No. 2 starters respectively, but junior Kiki Bengochea has struggled, with a 1-4 record and 7.92 ERA, which has cause Morris to vault sophomore Dan Touchet into the No. 3 spot for the second consecutive week. The bullpen has taken strides to improve, but still remain a contributor to the inflated ERA.

“We still need to do a better job of shutting down team’s offenses after the sixth and seventh innings,” said sophomore reliever Andrew Cohn. “If we continue to improve, then hopefully something will click.”

Both the coaches and the players are aware that Miami has not been playing at their capability, and are looking to change things, beginning this weekend.

“We’re looking at this series as the biggest one of the year, as we have been the last couple of years,” Rodriguez said. “We’re looking for answers, and right now our team is much better than we’ve shown, and we want to prove that.”

-A game against Northwestern has been added to the schedule for Tuesday at 7 p.m. at Mark Light Stadium. The two teams have met once before, with the Hurricanes defeating the Wildcats, 4-2, on March 22, 2000 at Mark Light Stadium.