It’s been a long wait for many since Miami baseball left Gainesville, Florida, on a trip back to Coral Gables instead of Omaha, Nebraska. Eight-and-a-half months, to be exact.
And from Friday until early June, the Hurricanes will start their adventure to get back to the College World Series after a six-year drought.
“The expectations by the end of the season need to be the same. They need to be the same, we can’t change that. Miami and I have been a part of it for a couple of [national] championships, I’ve been a part of the program for a long time as a player and coach,” Miami coach DiMare said. “There’s no one set team that wins [the College World Series]. The  team, that one, was extremely young. The 2001 team was very much a veteran team … Everybody’s got to develop, but especially the young guys because it’s a big jump from high school to ACC baseball.”
Eliminated in the NCAA Regionals for the second time in as many full seasons, the standard has been set. The Canes in the Gainesville Regional to South Alabama, following two quick losses in the ACC Baseball Championship last season. The Canes also lost three of their veterans — Adrian Del Castillo, Jake Smith and Anthony Vilar — to the MLB Draft.
One of the most important aspects of a successful baseball team is a strong pitching staff that can be relied upon in the biggest moments of any game. The Hurricanes’ staff comes into the 2022 season with a strong group of returnees, as well as great newcomers, led by Preseason All-American Carson Palmquist.
DiMare said on Tuesday that, in addition to Palmquist, sophomore right-handed starters Alejandro Rosario, Jake Garland and Alex McFarlane will fill UM’s starting rotation. Andrew Walters, a former Eastern Florida State transfer who pitching coach J.D. Arteaga believes improved “dramatically” from the end of last season, is set to serve as the team’s closer in place of Palmquist.
“In the past, our program has always been very consistent, which we weren’t last year, because we’ve had a consistent rotation,” DiMare said. “And for the most part [with the] lineup, but especially the starters and the bullpen, the back end of the bullpen. The middle part can always change, but last year we bounced around with so many different rotations and we could never get consistent with that. I told the guys that I hope it stays this way for the rest of the year.”
Palmquist finished the 2021 season with 14 saves and a 2.22 ERA over 44 ⅔ innings. His 14 saves were good for third in the nation, as well as an ACC-best. Palmquist began the season dominant, not allowing a single run over his first 14 ⅔ innings of work for the Hurricanes.
“We know our strength’s going to be on the mound,” DiMare said. “It should be, that’s the experience of our club.”
The Hurricanes return seven members of their pitching staff from last season, but have an experienced staff all throughout. Nine of Miami’s 15 pitchers are back from last season, but the new additions will have to play a huge role if the team wants to return to Omaha.
With so many new players coming into the program overall, DiMare pointed out the leadership of Garland, who has stepped up for Miami.
“He’s been great with everything, just in terms of speaking up,” DiMare said. “It’s just hard for guys nowadays, you want the players to speak up a little more … At the end of the day, it affects all of us in terms of our goals, which is to win.”
Garland, who earned a team-high 13 starts and six wins in 2021, emphasized the importance of the newcomers’ arrivals and their roles in the upcoming season. Out of the six new pitchers coming to Coral Gables, two are transfers, with the four others coming in as freshman to start their college careers with Miami.
“This is a really good freshman class,” Garland said. “And, it’s not even just the freshman, but some transfers we’ve got, too. Gage Ziehl has really stepped up on the mound, he’s showing what he can do. Karson Ligon’s showing what he can do and Rafe Schlesinger as well. They all deserve to be here.”
Ziehl was drafted in the 11th round of the 2021 MLB First-Year Player Draft by the Chicago Cubs, but already committed to playing for the Hurricanes when he was drafted and had a tough decision to make. Ziehl ultimately stuck with his commitment and is set to play a big role for the Hurricanes this season. The Macedon, New York, native went 5-0 with a 0.17 ERA and 91 strikeouts in 42 innings pitched as a senior at Penfield High School.
A strong staff led the Canes a year ago, finishing with the fourth-lowest ERA in the ACC during the 2021 season. Sophomore right-hander Alejandro Rosario will retain the role as the Canes’ Friday night starter after garnering a six-win season, ACC Pitcher of the Week recognition and All-Regional honors in the NCAA Regionals.
“I feel we just help [each other] on our weaknesses, we help each other get better,” Rosario said of the team’s pitching staff. “We communicate with each other, we tell each other our experiences, what to expect, what’s going to happen and just try to slow down the game for the new guys that are coming in.”
Added DiMare, “Guys make a jump. The guys that were veteran [players] last year that make a jump, and also the young guys that have been here for a short period of time [develop].”
Leading the field for the Hurricanes offensively will be third baseman Yohandy Morales. The true sophomore is returning as preseason all-ACC selection and a watchlist member for the Golden Spikes award, an award given to the top collegiate baseball player. Morales, standing at 6-foot-4, 208 pounds, finished last season as a Freshman All-American, hitting .284 with a team-high 44 scored runs.
“He was our most valuable guy in the fall swinging the bat,” DiMare said. “Made some big strides with his approach and mechanics.”
Several newcomers to the team will look to make an immediate impact, with the potential to earn a starting spot come Friday night. True freshman Lorenzo Carrier, a 6-foot-5 Aaron Judge look-alike, has the potential to start in right field. Carrier hails from Delaware, where he was two-time Gatorade Player of the Year and hit .535 with four home runs his senior year. Jacob Burke, a sophomore transfer from Southeastern Louisiana and Zach Levenson, a freshman transfer from Seminole State College of Florida, are both expected to be inserted into the starting lineup.
DiMare believes this year’s team has a better balance of power and speed than in past years.
“We have some more athleticism in the lineup, we do have more speed,” DiMare said.
With Miami opening its 30-game ACC slate on March 11 at home versus Boston College, DiMare expects the ACC to hold its reputation as one of the nation’s toughest conferences. The Hurricanes played 36 ACC contests last season, six more than a typical year, given that the NCAA scratched six non-conference matchups in a COVID-impacted schedule.
“I think it’s going to be more of the same, I think it’s going to be very similar,” DiMare said. “When you have a team like Notre Dame, [which] finished at the top of the ACC. You have Pitt and Virginia Tech, if I remember correctly, were ranked in the top 25 for quite some time. These are teams that are normally not at the top … Last year was tough. [The ACC] added six games to [our schedule] in the conference, so we ended up beating up on each other.”
Three non-conference series stack UM’s start to the season, including a weekend clash with Florida from March 4–6 at Mark Light Field. The Hurricanes secured wins in the final two contests of last year’s three-game road series at the now-1-year-old Florida Ballpark.
Miami kicks off its 2022 season with an 11-game homestand, starting with four games against Towson this weekend. First pitch on Friday is set for 7 p.m.
Andrew Klein and Isabella Didio also contributed to the reporting of this story.