Bongiovanni Draws Opening Assignment

University of Miami baseball coach Jim Morris has been around long enough to know that pitching is a vital part of the game. That's why Morris is adamant about the importance of getting quality innings from his pitchers for the Hurricanes to have any chance of getting back to the College World Series.

"Pitching, pitching and more pitching," said Morris after being asked what the Hurricanes need the most to make a return trip to Omaha after being eliminated in the Super Regional by South Carolina last season. "Whether its here or with the New York Yankees if you don't pitch well you're not going to win."

Starting Friday, May 30, at Mark Light Field Morris will find out if indeed the Hurricanes have enough pitching to take another step towards the CWS. Sophomore right-hander Vince Bongiovanni (6-4, 4.05) takes the mound for No. 1 seed UM (39-14-1) against No. 4 Bethune Cookman (30-26) at 7 pm in an opening round game of the Coral Gables Regional.

No. 2 Florida Atlantic (46-14) will play No. 3 Florida (34-19-1) in the first game of the regional at 3:30 p.m.

Bongiovanni, who has battled a strained right forearm injury for most of the season, regained the No. 3 spot in the Hurricanes pitching rotation earlier this month after missing three weeks with after having surgery to repair a torn cartilage in his right knee.

The 6-5, 218-pound hard-thrower is coming off a shaky start in the regular season finale against Long Beach State in which he suffered the loss. Bongiovanni allowed four runs and seven hits in four innings. But Bongiovanni doesn't seem rattled by the magnitude of his starting assignment this Friday.

"Anyone who starts has to get the job done at all costs," says Bongiovanni, who in 12 starts this season has surrendered 54 hits and 27 earned runs, while recording 63 strikeouts. "This is what you play for. You want the ball in this situation. There's no more tomorrow."

Bongiovanni, considered the best-velocity pitcher in the Hurricanes' rotation, has the ability to make radar guns in the stadium malfunction on any given night thanks to his fastball. But he also has a tendency to get a bit wild as evidenced by his three wild pitches and seven hit batters this season. Bongiovanni has also allowed 16 extra base hits, including four home runs.

Regardless, Morris likes the Hurricanes' chances in the opener against the Wildcats with Bongiovanni on the mound. In turn the decision to start Bongiovanni in Miami's first game will allow Morris to rest ace J. D. Cockroft (10-2, 2.40) and left-hander Brandon Camardese (9-0, 4.42) for the second day of the regional.

"I just feel starting Bongiovanni in the opener gives us the best shot," Morris said. "We're trying to win the entire thing, not just one game."

The Wildcats, making their fifth consecutive NCAA Regional appearance, will arrive in Coral Gables with plenty of momentum after becoming the first team in league history to win the conference tournament out of the loser's bracket. Bethune-Cookman defeated North Carolina A&T before taking two games from Florida A&M to take the title.

Bongiovanni will encounter a Bethune Cookman offense hitting .301 overall and spearheaded by senior John Gragg, who the leads team in batting average (.417), hits (85), doubles (17), triples (6), RBIs (60) and slugging percentage (.603). Gragg, who will oppose Bongiovanni in Friday's game, was selected as part of the All-Tournament team after putting together a performance that included two doubles, three RBIs and a pitching victory.

Junior outfielder Robert Rodriguez (9 HRs, 44 RBIs) and first baseman Juan Figueroa (.286 BA, 5 HRs, 53 RBIs) were also named to the MEAC All-Tournament team. Gragg, who leads the Wildcats in innings pitched (86) and strikeouts (89), is 9-3 with a 3.24 ERA.

Morris is hoping that Bongiovanni can go deep into Friday's game in order to give the Hurricanes bullpen the night off. But if Bongiovanni stumbles Morris will be forced to call on a group that has turned in mixed reviews this season. Aside from junior closer George Huguet, who is 3-2 with a 1.52 ERA and eight saves in 21 appearances this season, no other UM relief pitcher in the regular rotation has a lower ERA than 3.71. And that belongs to left-hander Andrew Lane. Lane has appeared in 11 games.

But Morris indicated Tuesday that he would not hesitate calling on the bullpen which consists of Alex Perez (2-2, 6.57), Andrew Cohn (0-0, 5.40), Marcelo Albir (1-2, 7.15) and Shawn Valdes-Fauli (2-0, 4.06, three saves). Perez could be summoned to start if the Hurricanes are forced to play multiple games in the tournament.

With Huguet out of the regional with a fractured hand, Valdes-Fauli will continue to fill the closer's role. And that apparently doesn't faze Morris, either. Valdes-Fauli has been working on a split-fingered fastball with pitching coach J. D. Arteaga that has impressed Morris as of late.

"Shawn has really picked it up," Morris said. "You have to have a closer to win."

Miami, coming off a series victory over nationally ranked Long Beach State to close out the regular season, will be tough to beat -- especially playing at home. The Hurricanes have advanced to the CWS 15 of the 18 times they have hosted a regional and enter this year's regional with a 16-game postseason winning streak at Mark Light Field since 1998.

The Hurricanes are 68-10 all-time in tournament games at home.

Miami offensive sparkplug Ryan Braun, who has been ailed by back problems in recent weeks, will likely be in the starting line-up after X-Rays earlier this week turned up negative. The freshman shortstop leads the Hurricanes in home runs (14) and RBIs (66). Freshmen third baseman Gaby Sanchez (.324, 50 RBIs) and Adam Ricks (50 RBIs) have also been steady offensively all season.

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