Old, new faces at the 'Light'

Four of a kind definitely won't be in the cards when the Coral Gables Regional begins Friday afternoon at Mark Light Field. The No. 1 seed University of Miami Hurricanes (44-11), hosting an NCAA regional for the 20th time, should feel right at home. No. 2 Florida Atlantic (45-15) might have preferred a different destination after capturing the Atlantic Sun Conference championship.

Revenge could be in on the minds of No. 3 North Carolina State (35-22), who return to Coral Gables after being eliminated from postseason by the Hurricanes last season. And No. 4 St. Bonaventure (29-20) is making its first NCAA postseason appearance.

"We don't get to pick who comes here and who doesn't," said UM coach Jim Morris. "We're just glad we're playing in the regionals and have a chance of going to the College World Series. I think it gives us an extra lift being in front of our fans."

No kidding.

The Hurricanes, who will face St. Bonaventure (7 p.m.) in the first-round of the double elimination regional, have advanced to the College World Series 16 out of the 19 times they've hosted a regional. The last time Miami failed to reach the CWS as regional host was 1990.

UM, making its NCAA-record 32nd consecutive regional appearance, has an all-time postseason record of 67-11 (.859) at Mark Light Field.

"That's why they've built such a great program. They always take care of business on their turf, " says St. Bonaventure coach Larry Sudbrook. "You have to play your best ball and hope for some breaks to go your way to best these guys. It's not going to be easy for anybody."

The Hurricanes, coming off a three-game sweep of Long Beach State to finish the regular season, couldn't have picked a better time to catch fire. After being shutout by North Carolina freshman pitcher Andrew Miller May 16 the Hurricanes have won seven straight, including two come-from-behind wins over the 49ers.

Miami also handed 49ers right-hander Jered Weaver, the projected No. 1 pick in next week's amateur draft, his first loss of the season.

"I think we're getting hot at the right time," said freshman left fielder Jon Jay, who is second on the team with a .364 batting average. "We're getting good pitching and timely hitting, it couldn't come at a better time."

Morris will turn to junior left-hander Brandon Camardese (5-2, 3.94) to start against St. Bonaventure. But a bigger question for the Hurricanes might be the youthfulness of their bullpen.

With the departure of set-up man Shawn Valdes-Fauli and closer George Huguet, both kicked off the team, freshmen Danny Gil (8-0, 3.31) and Ricky Orta (two saves), along with Chiqui Chrino, will be counted on to get big outs.

"We have some young guys down there, but they've been getting it down all year," said Morris. "Hopefully they can continue to do the job."

St. Bonaventure won four one-run games to take the Atlantic-10 tournament title. The Bonnies are led by Eric Wilson (.374, 7, 33).

Florida Atlantic, currently on a seven-game winning streak, is in the Coral Gables Regional for the fourth time in their last five postseason appearances. Despite capturing the Atlantic Sun tournament title the Owls, who were eliminated by Miami in the 2003 regionals, were disappointed to learn they would have to travel back to Coral Gables.

Some FAU players even complained about the heat in South Florida a year ago.

"It's going to be hot again so we can't worry about it," said FAU senior first baseman Rusty Brown. "We just have to go out there and focus on what happens between the lines. It's going to be hot no matter what."

Brown was hot in the Atlantic Sun tournament, going 10 for 19 with 13 RBIs as the Owls scored 50 runs in four games. Junior shortstop Derek Hutton (.360 BA, 6 HRs, 46 RBIs) was 8 for 19 with eight runs scored and seven RBIs. Sophomore Tim Mascia was 9 for 18 with six RBIs. FAU has hit 63 home runs this season.

The Owls should also have plenty of starting pitching in senior left-hander Randy Beam (10-3, 3.24 ERA, 72 K's), right-hander Matt O'Brien (10-3, 3.31) and freshman Matt Crotta (5-4, 5.20) to play deep into the weekend.

Freshman reliever Craig Hughes (3-2, 3.95) and senior Chris Sexton (4-1, 3.34, seven saves) could play a key role out of the bullpen.

The Wolfpack, who lost to UM in last season's Super Regionals, is also back in Miami after winning just one game in the ACC Tournament. North Carolina State will rely on the arms of senior right-hander Vern Sterry (9-2, 1.99) and redshirt sophomore Michael Rogers (9-3, 2.14) to make a run.

Saturday's second-round will consist of games at noon, 3:30 and 7 p.m. Sunday's championship game will be held at 1 p.m. with an additional contest immediately following, if necessary.

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