Weekend series to control UM’s fate

After getting swept by Florida State and having a ranked opponent come to Coral Gables this weekend, one might be inclined to think that the Miami Hurricanes would start looking towards next year. The team, however, is doing just the opposite.

The Hurricanes welcome No. 13 Long Beach State (24-10) to Mark Light Stadium for a three-game series, beginning tonight. Miami, who entered the season ranked as high as No. 2 in the ESPN/USA Today poll, dropped to .500(18-18) after Sunday’s game, and are in danger of missing the postseason for the first time since 1973. Head Coach Jim Morris and his players have kept an optimistic attitude though, and are looking forward to the final 20 games of the regular season.

“Long Beach State is playing really well, and if we beat them, then we can get back on track,” said Jim Burt. “The season is far from over.”

The Hurricanes will likely send sophomore right-hander Dan Touchet to the mound for tonight’s opener. Touchet has been one of Miami’s pleasant surprises this year, posting a 3-2 record with a 4.66 ERA. One of those wins came in Tallahassee

On Apr. 6, Touchet pitched a Hurricane season-high 7.2 innings, squandering six hits and two earned runs to help Miami notch its only victory in six attempts against the Seminoles.

“Dan pitched really well at Florida State,” Morris said. “For the most part, he’s done a good job for us and right now, I have to consider him our No. 1 pitcher.”

After playing well in the final two games at Tallahassee, the Hurricanes had high hopes for last weekend’s rematch with Florida State. After a 6-4 loss in the opener, Miami’s play went downhill, as the Seminoles won the final two games of the series with ease, defeating the Hurricanes 9-3, and 17-10, respectively.

“We didn’t put everything together in any of the games,” Burt said. “Friday, our pitching was good, but our hitting wasn’t there, and on Sunday, our hitting was good, but our pitching wasn’t there.”

Despite the three losses, there were a few bright spots for individual Hurricane players. Sophomore Haas Pratt drove in six RBI’s in the series, and will be in the lineup, possibly at first base, according to Morris. Freshman Paco Figueroa gets the start at short after hitting his first collegiate home run Sunday, while brother Danny continues to be Miami’s best defensive outfielder. The odd men out could be Burt and senior Matt Dryer, who were both out of the lineup Sunday. Although the lineup may be uncertain, the players on the field know they have to produce.

“We have to continue to hit, and really need to have good outings from our starters,” said junior Danny Matienzo. “We also need to really pick up our defense.”

After this weekend, the Hurricanes travel to Chapel Hill to face the University of North Carolina, who are ranked 21st by Baseball Weekly. Miami also has a series at No.5 Georgia Tech in May.

“We’ve been playing ranked teams, and we’ll continue playing ranked teams,” Morris said. “If we want to get back into the top 25 or even make it to the postseason, then we have to learn how to beat these teams.”

As for the postseason, the Hurricanes will need to play well over .500 to be assured of an at-large bid to the NCAA Regionals. If they reach the playoffs, Morris has high hopes for Miami’s potential.

“I believe, in my heart, if we get into the NCAA Tournament, then we have a chance to win,” Morris said. “We’ve played good in some games, and bad in some games, but we haven’t played well as a team, and I know we can play better.”

The players agree with their coach.

“If we have the chance to make it to a regional, there’s a chance for everything,” Matienzo said. “If we get hot, then we can make it to Omaha, but we have to finish strong.”