Crucial road series awaits Hurricanes

With the season winding down, the Miami Hurricanes started their drive towards a postseason bid by accomplishing their first goal – winning a series against a ranked team.

This weekend, however, Miami will have to go one step farther, and beat a ranked team on the road.

Tonight, the Hurricanes(21-19) kick off a three-game set at Chapel Hill, NC, against No. 19 North Carolina. The Tar Heels enter this weekend’s play with a 29-14 mark, and are fresh off a 10-2 victory over Virginia Commonwealth Tuesday. The Hurricanes realize that a win in the next three games won’t be easy.

“It’s definitely gonna be tough,” said third baseman Kevin Howard. “North Carolina is a great team and that’s going to be a tough place to play. However, we have won games on the road this year, so we should have full confidence going in there.”

Miami’s confidence recieved a big boost when the Hurricanes defeated No.17 Florida Atlantic 6-5, Wednesday Night. Javy Rodriguez stole home with two outs in the bottom of the seventh on an attempted pickoff play, to give Miami the lead for good. The run put the finishing touches on a five-run seventh inning.

Sophomore right-hander T.J. Prunty (5-3) pitched seven innings to get the win, giving up four earned runs on eight hits, while surrendering two walks and striking out seven. George Huget threw two perfect innings, including striking out the side in the ninth, to record his seventh save.

Miami was only able to muster four hits off five Owl pitchers, but combined smart base-running, solid pitching, and good defense, to get the win. At the plate, the ‘Canes were aided by Danny Figueroa and Brad Safchik, who each hit run-scoring singles.

The Hurricanes were able to put together two of their best games this season against Long Beach State. Friday night, Howard hit a walk-off three-run homer to give Miami a 9-6 victory in the opener. The home run, which was Howard’s second ninth-inning one of the year, carried over to Saturday’s contest, as the ‘Canes put together a solid hitting performance in a 10-6 win. The 49ers routed Miami 10-1 in the finale, but Morris was still more than satisfied with his team’s performance over the course of the weekend.

“Well, I’m pleased because we won the series, although when you win the first two, you become greedy,” Morris said. “There were a lot of positives that came out of the series, especially beating the No. 13 ranked team, and the fact that our RPI went from 53 to 36.”

Tonight, sophomore Dan Touchet gets the start for the Hurricanes. With a 3-2 record, the right-hander has enjoyed making the transition from the bullpen, and doesn’t mind being the team’s top starter, with Troy Roberson still on the shelf.

“I would like to be the one to set the tone on a Friday,” Touchet said. “If we can win that first game, then that makes the rest of the weekend a little series.”

Touchet and the rest of the pitching staff should have their hands full against a Tar Heel squad that averages almost nine runs a game, while hitting at a .320 clip.

“We need to hit our spots, and make sure to keep their hitters uncomfortable,” Touchet said. “You need to keep the hitters off-balance because when they become comfortable, then they take advantage of us.”

With 16 games left on the schedule, the Hurricanes will likely need to win almost every series to be assured a bid into the NCAA Regionals. However, the focus is on this weekend, and Morris hopes the team can continue to capitalize on what they did well against Long Beach State.

“I’ll take two out of three without question against North Carolina, without question,” Morris said. “In order to do that, we need to continue playing good defense, and have good starting pitching, and the bullpen needs to do a good job once we turn things over to them.