Baseball: Alabama State Preview

Looking to continue their winning ways, the Miami Hurricanes will host non-conference foe Alabama State this weekend at The Light.

At first glance, it would seem that this is nothing more than a walkover series. After all, ASU plays in one of the weakest baseball conferences in the nation, the SWAC, and they sport at RPI in the 170s.

Make no mistake, the Hurricanes should have no problem handling the Hornets in this series, but when you dig a little deeper, you can see that these guys may not be the pushover you would think they are.

They will come into the series with a 33-17 overall record and a staggering 21-3 record in SWAC play. Along the way, they have claimed a few wins against bigger programs like South Alabama, Auburn, and Samford. For a team that was 20-36 just two seasons ago, that's an astronomical rise.

Then again, their success should come as no surprise to any Miami fan, as ASU's head coach is long-time Bethune-Cookman head coach Mervyl Melendez. All he did in his years in Daytona Beach was completely dominate the MEAC, go to the regionals with his team just about every year, and lead his upstart bunch to a ton of upsets along the way. It would appear that he has something similar in the works at Alabama State. The offense sets the tone for their team. As a group, they are hitting .296 and get on base at a .396 clip.

Leading the way is Einar Muniz. The 5'5" junior from Tampa, Florida, is hitting .347 with a .482 on-base percentage. He has walked (28) almost twice as often as he has struck out (15). Most of the time, the cliché that the nine-hole hitter is the second leadoff hitter is just lip service, but it's true with Muniz.

The big boppers in the lineup start with Waldyvan Estrada. The Loiza, Puerto Rico native is hitting .347 with 11 doubles, four home runs and 50 RBI. But he is far from the only power threat in the lineup.

Emmanuel Marrero is hitting .335 with 14 doubles, three home runs, and 54 RBI. Richard Amion sports a .322 average with a .449 on-base percentage, 11 doubles, three home runs, and a team-leading 16 steals. Dexter Price chips in with a .310 average, .411 on-base percentage, a team-leading six home runs, and 34 RBI.

Branden Castro (.290 BA, 2 HR, 39 RBI), Richard Gonzalez (.287 BA, .424 OBP, 3 HR, 31 RBI), and Cesar Rivera (.282 BA, .384 OBP, 4 HR, 41 RBI, 10 steals) have also been solid contributors. In short, the Hornets feature a lineup that just doesn't let up.

They don't have as much depth on the mound, but all three of the starters they will throw at Miami this weekend have had fantastic seasons.

On Friday, the Canes will see righty T.J. Renda. The Orlando, Florida, native will come in with a 5-4 record and an even 3.00 ERA. In 75 innings, he has struck out 63 and walked 14. On Saturday, things actually get tougher, as the Hornets will send their most consistent starter this season, Joseph Camacho, to the mound. The 5'9" righty from El Paso, Texas, is 9-1 on the season with a 1.74 ERA. In 77.2 innings, he has struck out 55 and walked 17.

On Sunday, Tyler Howe will take the mound for ASU. He is 5-0 with a 2.47 ERA. In 54.2 innings, he has struck out 43 and walked 16.

Getting into the opposing team's bullpen early is always a goal, but against Alabama State, it's even more important, as they don't have a ton of depth there.

With that being said, they have gotten good innings from Armando Ruiz, who has a 3.54 ERA in 20.1 innings over 15 appearances, and Hunter McIntosh, who has a 4.03 ERA in 29 innings over 21 appearances. Normando Valentin, who has split his time between starting and the bullpen, has been pretty good as well. He has a 3.89 ERA in 41.2 innings spread over 11 appearances, five of them starts.

With a .973 fielding percentage, the Hornets aren't going to beat themselves, either. When a team is less talented than the team they are playing, as Alabama State will be this weekend against Miami, that's important.

The Hurricanes should be able to handle ASU well and come away with a sweep. In non-conference series against seemingly inferior opponents, though, it comes down to motivation and effort. If Miami doesn't come out and treat the Hornets like the threat they are, they could drop a game in this series, which could be catastrophic as far as RPI is concerned.

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