UM looks to end skid vs. Gophers

Reeling as a result of a two-game series sweep at the hands of the Florida Gators, there is a chance University of Miami baseball head coach Jim Morris hasn't even noticed who the Hurricanes next opponent is.

"We have to improve a lot of things about our ballclub," Morris said just minutes after the Gators had finished off the sweep. "There is a lot of work that we have to do to get better."

Those strides will have to be taken in a hurry.

Starting tonight, the defending national champion Hurricanes meet the University of Minnesota Gophers in a three-game series at Mark Light Stadium. The series will continue Saturday-Feb. 16- at 1p.m. and conclude Sunday-Feb. 17- at noon.

The Hurricanes (2-4), who enter the series on a three-game losing streak and haven't posted a victory since the opening weekend of the season, are under .500 for the first time since 2000 and fell to No. 7 in the Baseball America and No. 12 in the Baseball Weekly/ESPN coaches' poll, respectively.

Minnesota, the 2001 Big Ten Tournament champions, will be opening their season against the Hurricanes. The Gophers finished at 39-21 a year ago and won 14 of 27 games on the road.

The Gophers, who hit .321 as a team last season, will arrive in Coral Gables with a team that has been confined all winter to practice inside the Metrodome because of cold temperatures. Miami has had their problems on the mound without their two top starters from last year's championship team. The Hurricanes pitching staff has surrendered 40 runs, including 32 earned, in 53 innings pitch for a 5.43 ERA.

Junior right-hander Troy Roberson (0-0, 3.86) will likely start the series opener for the Hurricanes and be opposed by Minnesota junior right-hander C. J. Woodrow. Woodrow was 7-4 with a 4.82 ERA in 13 starts last year, which included two shutouts and four complete games.

Junior right-hander Kiki Bengochea (0-2, 6.23), who has allowed eight runs on 11 hits in two losing efforts, will get the call for the Hurricanes in the middle, with sophomore right-hander Craig Molldren (4-1, 4.43 in 2001) expected to throw for the Gophers. Sophmore T. J. Prunty (0-0, 8.10) will close out the series for UM, while Minnesota is still undecided on their third starter.

The opening game of the series will mark the return of Toronto BlueJays infielder Dave Berg, who played at the University of Miami from 1992-93. Berg will throw out the ceremonial first pitch during pregame festivities.

After losing all three players from the middle of the line-up from last season, the Gophers could take a while to find the right formula that produces some offense. The Gophers lost two position starters and two pitchers from a team that was ousted in the Baton Rouge Regional by LSU. Minnesota finished 19-8 and in third place in the Big Ten during the regular season.

Head coach John Anderson, in his 20th year, will have his work cut out from the very beginning, but sophomore outfielder Sam Steidi and junior second baseman Luke Appert are two of the players expected to lead the way.

Steidi, a freshman All-American last year, led the Gophers with a .401 batting average and was third in doubles (14), tied for fourth in hits (73) and fourth in runs scored (50). Steidi also stole 14 bases in 18 attempts.

Appert, a freshman All-American two seasons ago, contributed with a .319 average with 73 hits, including 13 doubles. The 6-0, 180-pounder had a homerun with 43 RBI and scored 51 runs.

Junior infielder Scott Welch also produced a solid 2001 campaign with six homeruns and 42 RBI to go with a .342 batting average and 78 hits. Welch scored 55 times and added nine doubles.

After taking two of three games from the University of Tennessee to start the season, the Hurricanes have dropped three consecutive games, including a defeat at Florida International University last week.

With freshman starters at second base and center field, Miami has struggled to produce offense with any consistency through the first six games. The Hurricanes have also had their share of difficulties shutting down the opposition's offense. Miami, hitting .251 overall, has been outscored 40-30 so far this season.

Joey Hooft, taking over for the departed Kris Clute, has just three hits in 12 at-bats for a .250 average and still remains without a run batted in. Hooft also showed early-season jitters with two costly errors against the Volunteers in the first two games of the season. Danny Figueroa, the other first-year starter, is 6-for-22 on the young season with three RBI and is at .273.

If the Hurricanes are to wake-up from their mini-slump senior shortstop Javy Rodriguez just might provide the remedy. Rodriguez leads the Hurricanes in average (.417) and hits (10) despite just one run batted in from the lead-off spot in the line-up. Rodriguez, who led the nation and set a school record with 66 stolen bases a season ago, is perfect- 3-for-3- in that category this season.

Senior first baseman Matt Dryer is the only other Hurricane hitting above .300 (.364) and has one of the four UM home runs on the season. Rightfielder Kevin Mannix leads the Hurricanes with two homers.

History is on the Hurricanes side against the Gophers as they lead the all-time series 11-3, which includes a 10-1 victory last season in the Hormel Foods Classic in Minnesota.

The Gophers last visited the Hurricanes in 1994, losing two of three in a series in the end of February. Minnesota returned that same season for the Atlantic Regional in Coral Gables and was washed away 11-3.

Minnesota has one player from the state of Florida: junior first baseman David Roach from Clearwater.

DROPPED

The Hurricanes were dropped to No. 7 in Baseball America and No. 12 in the Baseball Weekly/USA Today coaches' polls, released earlier this week. Collegiate Baseball rated the Hurricanes to No. 17 after having them at No. 7 the first two weeks of the season.

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