Showdown at the 'Light'

One pitch had not even been thrown this season and the University of Miami baseball team was already in the dumps. Feeling disrespected throughout the country and left out of the top 25 in Baseball America's preseason poll the four-time national champion Hurricanes, from coach Jim Morris on down, weren't very pleased with the lack of attention coming their way.

Morris, more so than his players, expressed his displeasure by calling it a ‘slap in the face to our program' and indicated that the Hurricanes would use it as fuel during the season.

Questioned by a turnover on their roster, an inexperienced pitching staff and another murderous schedule Miami was omitted from most of the national rankings. But the Hurricanes (27-7) wasted little time in making a move, bolting through the rankings as a result of their best start after 34 games since 1998.

Miami, ranked 12th in Baseball America, opened the season by winning 15 of 18 games and has not suffered consecutive defeats all year. In between the Hurricanes have put together separate eight-game winning streaks.

"We've played pretty good baseball and I think a lot of the guys used the preseason polls as motivation," says Morris. "But I'd like to see the same intensity every time we go out there. We have to be consistent pitching, on defense and with the sticks. We can't afford to be sloppy like we've been."

Especially for the next two weekends.

Starting tonight the Hurricanes will play host to Baseball America's No. 3 team Florida State (34-6) at Mark Light Field in a three-game series that could elevate UM's status as one of the best teams in the country or send them reeling out of the polls. The Seminoles, behind Rice and Cal-State Fullerton in the Baseball America, have won 15 of their last 19 games, including a mid-week victory over Jacksonville, and feature a pitching staff that has a team ERA of 2.44.

Morris, like his team, understands the stakes are always high when the Seminoles roll into town. Not to mention that the upcoming games against their intrastate rivals could go a long way in determining how the rest of the season shapes up for the Hurricanes.

"I don't really have to say much about Florida State to get them pumped up," said Morris. "Everybody on our team realizes what playing Florida State means. The intensity around here the last couple of days has been incredible and it's really not a coincidence. It's Florida State week. I don't have to say much more."

Offensively, the Hurricanes have been consistent all season long with nine players hitting .309 or better and combing for a .313 team batting average. One of the reason why? Freshman shortstop Ryan Braun (.372, nine home runs, 42 RBI, .635 slugging percentage) who leads the Hurricanes in every offensive category except doubles and triples Morris said that Braun struggled early in the fall as he tried to adjust to the pitching. But the unassuming frosh hasn't encountered too many problems since.

"He's one of those kids you just plug in there and not even worry about," Morris said. "Ryan comes to play every night."

Miami starting catcher Erick San Pedro (.367 BA, 3 HRs, 24 RBIs), Adam Ricks (.333 BA, 30 RBIs) and Jim Burt (.326, 8 HRs, 28 RBIs) have also factored in an offense that is scoring 8.7 runs a game. Although they will all have their work cut on against the Seminoles.

Going into Wednesday's game against Jacksonville Florida State's pitching staff, ranked third nationally in ERA, had allowed an average of 3.4 runs a contest. Florida State has received 23 of their 33 victories from their starting pitchers. Senior pitcher Matt Lynch (8-2, 3.53) leads the staff in victories; strikeouts (53) and innings pitched (66.1). Lynch has allowed 77 hits and 30 runs (26 earned).

Senior left-hander Daniel Davidson, the Atlantic Coast Conference pitcher of the week, is coming off a seven-inning effort against Clemson in which he blanked the Tigers on four hits. Davidson (6-0, 1.40) added eight strikeouts. In five starts this season for the Seminoles has allowed 31 hits in 45 innings pitched and recorded 48 strikeouts. Davidson has allowed just two homeruns all season long. Junior Trent Peterson (6-1, 2.35) leads the staff with 67 strikeouts in 65 innings pitched.

Leading the way is freshman third baseman Eddy Martinez-Esteve. Martinez-Esteve ranks first on the team in batting average (.361), hits (54) and doubles (13). The former Westminster Christian standout is tied for the team lead in homeruns (7) and has 35 RBI. Junior catcher Tony Ritchie has seven home runs and 48 RBIs on the season. .

"This is an important part of the season for us," said Morris.

Miami, 20-5 this season at home, was 31-4 after 35 games in 1998 before eventually being eliminated in the College World Series by Long Beach State. The Seminoles lead the all-time series (118-105) and have won five of the last six meetings between both teams. Miami took five of six from FSU in 2001 and six of seven during their 1999 national championship season. Taking the mound for Miami: JD Cockroft (6-0, 2.35), Vince Bongiovanni (5-2, 3.04) and Brandon Camardese (5-0, 4.61)

ON THE SIDE: With the Seminoles victory over Clemson last Sunday, FSU coach Mike Martin picked up win No. 1,272 in his 24-year career in Tallahassee. Martin surpassed victories former UM coach Ron Fraser for eighth place for all-time victories among Division I coaches. Fraser won 1,271 games in 30 years at Miami. Saturday night, Apr. 19 is Ron Fraser Bubblehead doll night at Mark Light Field.

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