Miami has been in this driver's seat position many times before only to get burned in recent years. In 1995 the Trojans took the Canes out in back-to-back games and in 1997 it was Alabama. Both squads played the role of spoiler in Omaha. A mere nine innings from Saturday's title game and the unthinkable occurred. A 2-0 record quickly became 2-2 with seats on the next flight out of Omaha. Next stop, Miami International Airport and cancel plans for the victory parade. The underdogs overcame tremendous odds. Can it happen again? Absolutely. Can the Canes avoid such a letdown? Let's just say I'd be shocked if Miami isn't playing on Saturday. Some keys to survival against Tennessee Vols: Act II:
Play Thursday's game as if it were for the National Championship. Sure, this sounds cliché, but it is the truth. Throw Brian Walker or last Saturday's starter Tom Farmer, if he is good to go. Don't pull a Trojan-flop like Coach Gillespe did Tuesday in not throwing Mark Prior. Sitting on his ace has the Trojans headed home and sitting in front of their TVs for Saturday's title game.
Tennessee is hitting the life out of the ball. The Vols have posted 42 runs in three games and gone yard eight times. They have been known as a "come from behind" team all season but in their past few games they comfortably became the aggressor. Tennessee jumped on Georgia 6-0 by the third inning and worked USC for six runs before the Trojans responded with two in the sixth. Once Nebraska was eliminated, Tennessee slipped into the role of "Cinderella." They are yet to realize they don't belong in Omaha, being the only unseeded squad in the tournament. Based on tradition alone, USC should've taken them out. Miami needs to attack early, play a stronger defense than in the first meeting last Saturday and be the aggressor. Show the Vols that the Canes know how to handle being up 2-0 and one win away from the championship game. Score first, let the confidence kick in, play smart Miami-style baseball and take control of the contest from the get go.
Don't give up the big plays. Tennessee has had some duos who puffed out their chests and played the hero role. In the first Canes/Vols meeting the tag team was Brandon Hopkins and Kris Bennett who combined for five hits and eight of the twelve runs. Against Georgia, again it was Bennett and Miami native Javi Herrera combining for seven hits and eleven runs. When USC came calling it was Ryan Case and Jeff Christensen posting seven runs off of four hits. Each game another duo of no-name faces emerges from the Volunteer bench and finds a way to get the job done. It will happen again on Thursday and Miami needs to be prepared for these game-changing moments. Respond to the pressure, never buckle and when swung upon, swing back harder.
Let Javi Herrera's ego put the Vols in trouble and be ready to capitalize. Am I the only one who noticed that Tennessee catcher Herrera was more concerned with adding clips to his personal highlight reel than sacrificing for the greater good of his team? Whether he was gunning the ball back to his pitcher at the speed of light or carelessly attempting to throw out base runners that had several steps on him, Herrera always opted to go for the play that could earn him another "Pudge" Rodriguez comparison as opposed to playing it semi-conservative and focusing on the next possible out. This highly talented freshman is inches from sending a wild throw into the outfield and letting the go ahead run score. His arrogance is going to catch up with him and humble him. Miami base runners need to bait him into careless decisions without getting themselves thrown out. Toy with his emotions. Make him over-think his game and be ready to make No. 44 pay for a mistake. Javi Herrera has the tools, but he is green behind the ears. With less fanfare, Miami catcher Mike DiRosa outplayed Herrera both at and behind the plate in Saturday's game. DiRosa's ability to stop a wild pitch from getting past him is a thousand times more impressive than Herrera's bionic arm.
Aggressive Miami base stealers such as Javy Rodriguez, Mike Rodriguez and Marcus Nettles have the experience and advantage over Javi Herrera and they need to step up their game and make the freshman pay. One bad throw could provide the winning run in what will definitely be a closer game than Saturday's 21-13 victory.
Feed off of the energy of "big play Miami-style baseball" and ride it to victory. In the first meeting against the Vols it was Danny Matienzo who provided a spark with a hit and a 2 RBI almost every time he came to the plate. When USC was the victim, Charlton Jimerson hit a home run and took back another over the center field wall early in the contest to set the tone. In the seventh inning it was Greg Lovelady's heads up work behind the plate that got the Canes out of the inning unscathed while protecting the 4-3 lead. Two men in scoring position with no outs was quickly erased by tagging out one Trojan at the plate and gunning down another as he attempted to steal third. Lovelady's huge seventh inning carried over as Miami pitchers Cohn and Huguet mowed down Tennessee hitters in the eighth and ninth.
Going into Thursday's game, the Canes have the edge. Riding high on a 15-game win streak and 2-0 in Omaha, Miami knows they are potentially nine innings from their third title game in six seasons. Tennessee is still unsure whether they are lucky or good. A win against the Canes would prove the latter. To knock out Georgia, USC and to come back to beat No. 2 seed Miami when faced with elimination, Tennessee's emotions would be running high and the Vols could steal the Canes' momentum.
For Miami to lose at this point of the season is detrimental. The sense of invincibility would be gone at the absolute worst possible point of the season. These kids haven't tasted defeat since May 4th when Jacksonville squeaked by with a 3-2 win at Mark Light. Even worse, the Canes only lost once on the road in 2001 and that was on January 26th at Florida Atlantic. One loss in Omaha could easily become two.
There is no reason for the Canes to come out flat against Tennessee. Everything is on the line and there are enough experienced veterans on this squad that know how to respond to adversity. The opponent scores three on you in the top of the fifth; respond with four in the bottom of the inning. Bring them back to reality before they have a chance to build momentum They hit you, you hit back harder. It should be that simple. On Thursday, Cane fans will find out if indeed it is.