Halfway through the season, Head Coach Jim Morris is beginning to piece together the essence of his Miami Hurricanes baseball team.
In a season that began with high expectations, the young Hurricanes (who regularly start eight underclassmen) have played an inconsistent brand of baseball, switching between very hot and very cold streaks marked by brilliant performances and fundamental breakdowns.
This cycle was evident in the eight games played over Spring Break, in which the ‘Canes went 4-4 and looked like contenders at times and pretenders at others.
In a competitive series on the road against North Carolina, the ‘Canes stayed in all three games, but were ultimately swept in a series of high scoring affairs. While a sweep is never easy to stomach, the ‘Canes proved to many that they can go blow for blow against top teams such as the No.1 Tar Heels. They also proved that their pitching is not yet where it needs to be, as the offense was able to keep them in games but the pitchers were unable to halt the Tar Heels when it mattered most-in the late innings.
In two midweek games against Maine and Rutgers, Miami showed that they may have overcome their habit of looking past the lower-tier opponents on their schedule. They managed to avoid falling victim to trap games before a weekend series at home against the Maryland Terrapins, another tough ACC foe.
Miami won the first two games against the Terps, including a Friday night blowout and a Saturday night comeback that was won on the final pitch. The ‘Canes lost another close one Sunday afternoon, in the last inning, as a late rally fell short and the ‘Canes lost 5-4.
Besides the series win against the Terps and the four game win streak, Miami learned many things about themselves over the break.
Aside from proving that they can hang tough with the best the conference and the country has to offer, the ‘Canes displayed several promising individual developments.
The recently promoted starting pitcher, Eric Erickson, dominated the Terps on Friday night with an 11 strikeout performance, showing that the ‘Canes have an ace that they can rely on to shut down opponents from the start. Freshmen shortstop Ryan Jackson, catcher Jason Hagerty and outfielder Kevin Diego also came up big in clutch situations, showing that the Hurricanes have depth off of the bench and in the bottom of their batting order.
A strong showing from the bullpen all weekend against Maryland also provided hope that this team will get better, since the bullpen was labeled by Morris to be the weakest point of the team at the beginning of the season.
The big lesson to take away from the past two weeks is to not sleep on this team, as it more and more resembles last year’s College World Series team with each passing game. They are young, feature improving pitching and have a potentially combustible offense. As Morris continues to find the lineups that work best for the team, they will become more and more dangerous heading into the NCAA tournament.
Dan Stein may be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.