Baseball: No. 2 ‘Canes to open season against Mercer this weekend

The University of Miami baseball team will open their highly anticipated season on Friday with a three game series against Mercer at Mark Light Field. The Hurricanes enter the season ranked 2nd in the nation, with high hopes of returning to Omaha, Neb. for their second straight College World Series appearance.

The ‘Canes lost seven players to the Major League Baseball draft, but many of last year’s freshmen saw playing time last season, giving Miami a young yet experienced squad.

“We lost some great players last season,” Head Coach Jim Morris said. “When seven guys get drafted to play professional ball it is always tough to fill the void, but we have a lot of younger guys that saw playing time last year so we are still an experienced team.”

Miami has four sophomore stars that will be at the core of the lineup this season. Yonder Alonso and Jemile Weeks will anchor the right side of the infield at first and second base respectively. Outfielders Blake Tekotte and Dennis Raben will also be crucial components of the Hurricanes success this season.

“We have a lot of hardworking guys on this team,” Tekotte said. “Everyone has a great attitude and we are really anxious to start the season.”

The ‘Canes also boast some standout seniors, including shortstop Roger Tomas, third baseman Gus Menendez and catcher Richard O’Brien. Don’t expect the lineup to stay the same each game, though.

“I’ve always believed in trying [to get] the right players in at the right time,” Morris said. “The lineup you see on Friday night won’t stay the same all season long.”

On the mound this weekend, the Hurricanes will have two veteran starters at the helm. Southpaw Manny Miguelez will pitch on opening night, followed by senior right-hander Danny Gil on Saturday. Freshman Eric Ericson will take the mound in the final game of the series.

“[Two] of those guys [Gil and Miguelez] started last year,” Morris said. “The question mark is our bullpen.”

Scott Maine, who was scheduled to start the pitching rotation on Friday, violated team policy and was removed from the line-up on Wednesday, according to Morris.

Mercer returns seven of nine starters this season, coming off a record of 34-26 in 2006, good enough for third in the Atlantic Sun Conference. The Bears look to improve upon this mark in 2007, but it will certainly be difficult with a young pitching staff that returns six of last year’s 11 throwing arms.

“Since it is the first series of the year, you kind of play as you go along,” Morris said. “We don’t have the scouting reports that we receive later in the season, so we are just trying to prepare as best as we can.”

Miami is 27-1 all-time against the Bears, but the last time the two clubs met was in 1981. Even though it is the first series of the year, the ‘Canes can’t help but think ahead.

“Our goal is always Omaha,” freshman shortstop Ryan Jackson said. “Omaha is always in the back of our minds.”

Zack Loss may be contacted at