The Miami Hurricanes took advantage of the chance to improve their position in the national rankings and earn respect from their critics this past weekend. But the challenges are far from over for head coach Jim Morris’s club.
The Hurricanes host a dangerous Oral Roberts squad this weekend at Mark Light Field. This series comes one week after a sweep over No. 2 Georgia Tech that vaulted the Hurricanes into the top 10 in both national polls. Miami, who has won eight games in a row, carries a No. 7 ranking in Collegiate Baseball and are No. 9 in Baseball America.
Unranked in the preseason by Baseball America, the Hurricanes were looking for recognition after beating one of the premier programs in the country. Despite moving up six spots in both polls, Morris wants a permanent spot in the top eight by the end of the season, which would guarantee the ‘Canes the right to host an NCAA Regional next month.
“I think this weekend showed the voters that we are a legitimate team,” Morris said. “We aren’t where we want to be though, and we have half the season to get into the top eight.”
The Hurricanes have been led by a variety of unexpected players so far, including freshman Ryan Braun. Braun was named National Hitter of the Week after going 9 for 19 (.474), hitting two home runs and driving in 12 runs from March 24-30.
Braun leads the team with a .390 batting average, nine home runs and 34 RBI. To most of the Miami fan base, Braun has come out of nowhere, but Morris learned what he had in Braun this past winter.
“We always considered Ryan an outstanding prospect but he struggled during the fall,” Morris said. “It wasn’t until winter ball that everything began to click for him. Now he’s getting some national attention.”
But Braun refuses to take all of the credit for the Hitter of the Week honor.
“Obviously it is a tremendous honor and I am grateful for it,” Braun said. “I look at it as a tribute to the team though. Without guys getting on base for me I wouldn’t be able to drive in so many runs.”
Braun feels that the criticism the ‘Canes received during the preseason about their youth and inexperience has motivated the team to prove all of the doubters wrong.
“Having people say that we’re too young was definitely motivating for us,” Braun said. “What people don’t realize about us is that we work hard on and off the field. Some teams have talent but they don’t put in the time that it takes to win.”
This weekend the ‘Canes will try to keep Oral Roberts from knocking them out of the top 10. The Golden Eagles are led by freshman pitcher Taylor McIntyre, who was named Mid-Continent Pitcher of the Week last week. He leads the conference in earned run average (0.70) and has won his last two starts.
On the offensive side junior outfielder MattVanDerBosch, who was named Player of the Week in the conference, paces the Golden Eagles.
With all of the attention the Hurricanes have been receiving, the strong possibility remains that Miami could become complacent with their current position and slack off a bit. But Morris says he’s taking precautions to ensure that won’t happen.
“I keep talking to them and reminding them how long the season is,” Morris said. “I have to rely on the older players like Jim Burt and J.D. Cockroft to provide leadership to the younger players who haven’t been here before.”
The only area of concern for the ‘Canes thus far has been the pitching staff. Brandon Camardese was roughed up in an inning of work on Sunday and as a whole, Miami pitchers struggled against the big bats of Georgia Tech.
But Morris says he is satisfied with the way the pitchers have been performing throughout the season, and is confident that Camardese can bounce back.
“Brandon didn’t get to pitch the previous two Sundays because of rainouts so he may have been a little rusty,” Morris said. “He should be able to pitch well this Sunday though. There are certain areas where pitchers could improve but I am pleased with their overall effort.”
With a busy week looming ahead for the Hurricanes and an Oral Roberts team that is hoping to catch the ‘Canes by surprise, Morris has kept his players focused on the task at hand.
“We have a simple goal for this week and that is to win every game,” Morris said. “If we play well then that won’t be a problem.”
Eric Kalis can be reached at email@example.com.