"It's not hard to figure out that this game starts and ends with pitching," says Morris. "I don't care how many runs you score if you can't stop the other guys from scoring it's not going to be a lot of fun at the end of the day."
That said Morris and the No. 3 Hurricanes (36-9) have been having a blast thanks in part to a pitching staff that has compiled a team ERA of 3.67 - 26th nationally - and averaged 8.2 strikeouts per nine innings this season.
The Hurricanes' starters have accounted for 26 of the team's victories heading into this weekend's three-game series against No. 16 North Carolina (34-12). They have delivered quality starts - six innings and three earned runs or less - in four of the last six games for the Hurricanes.
Senior J. D. Cockroft, junior Brandon Camardese and sophomore Cesar Carrillo, the Hurricanes top-three starters, have combined to go 19-4 with a 3.16 ERA. The three have been a major part of the Hurricanes winning 13 of their last 16 games, including six in a row, and staying atop the national polls despite several key injuries.
UM pitchers have allowed just 3.6 earned runs and 7.8 hits per game this season; impressive stuff considering the offensive numbers routinely produced in college baseball these days.
"We just have guys with the attitude of give me the ball because I want it," says the left-handed Cockroft (6-3, 2.79), who reassumed his role as staff ace last month after being sent to the bullpen by Morris. "And I think that's what I've learned the most from being around these guys so much."
Cockroft was taken out of the rotation three weeks into the season after struggling with his location, especially in a 2 1/3 innings outing against Florida International University in which he was tagged for eight runs. But since returning to the rotation last month Cockroft has won four straight decisions with a 0.94 ERA during the same span.
He had gone over 21 innings without giving up a run before having the streak snapped last Friday against Jacksonville. Cockroft, who led the staff last season at 11-3 with a 2.72 ERA, learned a lesson after being reduced to bullpen duties.
"I just started going after hitters more aggressively," said Cockroft. "Before I was just trying to be too perfect with every pitch. I'm still trying to hit my spots, but at the same time I'm going after guys now."
That hasn't been a problem for Carrillo, undefeated in 10 starts this season. Carrillo, who leads the staff in strikeouts this season with 53, has been the Hurricanes most consistent starter after joining the rotation early on.
Carrillo, who has given UM six quality starts this season, has not allowed more than three runs in a game since April 10 against Florida State. In wins over Rutgers, Penn State and Illinois-Chicago during a stretch of three games in March, Carrillo allowed just four runs and 13 hits in 20 innings.
He has held the opposition to a .228 batting average and surrendered 57 hits in 67 innings pitched. Camardese (5-1, 4.03 ERA) has 42 strikeouts in 60 innings pitched despite struggling at times with his control. Dan Touchet (4-1, 4.35) and Vince Bongiovanni (3-2, 5.11) have also contributed.
"I'm not into ERAs and all that stuff to tell you truth," says Morris. "I don't care who it is as long as the guy out there on the mound sucks up some innings and gets some hitters outs."
So far, so good.
THREE OF A KIND W-L ERA IP K'S J. D. Cockroft 6-3 2.79 67.2 46 Cesar Carrillo 8-0 2.67 67.1 53 Brandon Camardese 5-1 4.03 60.1 42