Morris Optimistic About Future

The sting of being eliminated from the College World Series and having to fly home sooner than expected will stick with University of Miami coach Jim Morris for a long time. But considering that the Hurricanes were left out of most preseason rankings and given little chance of even getting to Omaha this season has Morris feeling good about the future of the program.

The Hurricanes (45-17-1) arrived at the Coral Gables campus Wednesday afternoon after being eliminated from the CWS by Texas a day earlier. Miami, 5-1 losers to Texas for the second time in four days, went 1-2 in the double elimination tournament and now have an all-time record of 44-32 in Omaha.

The Hurricanes entered play in this year's CWS with an 8-0 record dating back to 1999. Miami won national titles in 1999 and 2001 after sweeping through the double-elimination tournament.

Miami, who avoided elimination with a victory over Southwest Missouri State in a loser's bracket game earlier this week, was plagued by an inability to get clutch hits with runners in scoring position and getting outs when they needed them the most.

But rather than dwell on the Hurricanes struggles in Omaha Morris sang the praises of a team that took the field this season with two freshman, five sophomores and two juniors in the starting line-up. After falling two outs short of the CWS in 2002, Miami was ranked 25th in Baseball America's preseason poll prior to this season.

Many of the players quietly stepped off the team bus inside Mark Light Field and headed straight for the locker room to pick up their belongings before going home for the summer. Morris talked about being disappointed but at the same time was encouraged knowing the team will remain intact for the 2004 season.

"You're always disappointed when you go to Omaha and don't win. But overall I thought we had a good season," said Morris, who is 472-165-2 in 10 seasons at Miami. "We finished tied for fifth in the country with a very young team. It was a great experience for them and obviously being in Omaha will help them down the road."

Morris pointed out that 22 of the 25 UM players on the postseason roster had never been to the CWS before this season. Just like a professional franchise that has to overcome several obstacles before winning a championship, Morris said that a team as young as Miami will only learn from their first trip to Omaha.

"You got to realize that 22 of our 25 guys have never even been to Omaha," said Morris. "You can talk about it and have other people tell you about it all you want. But nobody knows what its like until they've actually experienced it. You're playing in front of national television audience and 26,000 people in the stadium every night. That can be really tough, especially on a young ballclub like ours."

The players might feel dejected now but the good news is that there will be little, if any, turnover on the roster. The middle of Miami's starting line-up is expected back next season.

Starting shortstop Ryan Braun, the national freshmen player of he year, finished the regular season ranked first in most of the Hurricanes offensive categories and carried the offense for much of the season. Braun, 2-for-12 in the CWS, finished the regular season first in home runs, RBI, hits and slugging percentage. He was second in doubles and on-base percentage.

"Ryan did a great job this season," Morris season. "I couldn't have asked for more."

Sophomore catcher Erick San Pedro provided excellent defense and some key hits during the postseason. San Pedro hit a grand slam in game two of the super regional regional to help defeat North Carolina State. San Pedro made just four errors during the regular season while producing a .989 fielding percentage. He hit four home runs and added 40 RBI.

Center fielder Danny Figueroa developed into one of the most reliable players in the nation with a .332 batting average and 40 stolen bases. Figueroa made two errors the whole season. Adam Ricks, who split time between second base and designated hitter, hit .338 with 54 RBI. Freshman third baseman Gaby Sanchez, who made two costly errors in the opener against Texas, hit .329 with seven home runs and 56 RBI.

Miami's pitching staff overcame a rash of injuries throughout the season. Third-year pitcher Dan Touchet, expected to be the team's No. 1 pitcher, was loss for the season after having Tommy John surgery.

Enter J. D. Cockroft. Cockroft, expected to fill a role in the bullpen before the start of the season, was named the ace in mid-February and responded with an 11-2 record and 2.65 ERA during the regular season. Vince Bongiovanni (7-4, 3.95) and Brandon Camardese (9-1, 4.95) are also expected to return to the pitching staff. Sophomore Shawn Valdes-Fauli (5-0, 3.51, seven saves), who emerged as the Hurricanes closer late in the season, and George Huguet (3-2, 1.87) could give the Hurricanes a formidable combination out of the bullpen next season.

The Hurricanes did grow up rapidly during the regular season.

Despite publicly expressing discontent after being snubbed in the preseason rankings, the Hurricanes opened the season by winning 15 of 19 games and sweeping nationally ranked Georgia Tech without their appointed staff ace and long time pitching.

UM loss third-year junior Dan Touchet, who was expected to be the staff's No. 1 pitcher, to Tommy John surgery several weeks into season. Shortly there after the Hurricanes suffered another blow when well-liked pitching coach Lazaro Collazo resigned amid allegations stemming from a baseball academy he owned. Miami was penalized several weeks later

The Hurricanes lost their first game without Collazo in the dugout but managed to win 21 of 25 games from that point on. UM dropped consecutive games just twice during the regular season (Apr. 18-19, FSU, May 10-11, Jacksonville). Miami finished the regular season by winning 11 of 13 games, including a series at Long Beach State during the final weekend of the regular season.

Miami won three of four games in the Coral Gables regional to advance to super regional against North Carolina State. They clinched their 20th CWS appearance with a sweep of the Wolfpack.

"We didn't play our best baseball this weekend if not we would still be playing," said sophomore catcher Erick San Pedro, who was 4-for-11 with 2 RBI in the CWS. "But it was a great experience and a good season for us. Texas has a great team and they were the better team I guess."

San Pedro added that a lack of timely hitting hurt Miami's chances of extending their stay in Omaha.

"We didn't get a lot of timely hits and when you don't score runs you can't win a lot of games," said San Pedro.

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