Canes off to California for ‘Bash'

The last images of the 2001 college baseball season left by the University of Miami were those of victory and celebration as they paraded around Rosenblatt Stadium with the national championship not too far behind.

The Hurricanes had just defeated Stanford to claim their fourth title in school history and finish the season on a 17-game winning streak. UM would taste defeat just three times in the last 31 times they stepped on a baseball diamond.

Many of the same players that helped put together that impressive run would also agree that it was sparked by the Cal-State Fullerton Titans in a three-game series at Mark light Stadium midway through the season. The Titans came into Coral Gables and had little trouble sweeping the Hurricanes. The Hurricanes were staggered by the Titans, who outscored UM 25-9 in the series,

"That was definitely the turning point," said University of Miami head coach Jim Morris. "Cal-State pitched better than us, hit better than us and showed off great glove work."

The Hurricanes (8-4), ranked No. 6 by Baseball America, can get a little payback this weekend, March 1-3, at the Kia Baseball Bash when they face the tournament-host Titans, Saturday at 10 p.m. at Goodwin Field.

Miami will face No. 17 University of Southern California, Friday at 5:30 p.m (est.) and conclude their participation against No. 25 University of Houston, Sunday at 1 p.m. The Titans are ranked No. 11 by Baseball America.

Also as part of the ‘Bash', the Trojans will meet the Cougars on Saturday (5:30 p.m.) and the Trojans on Sunday (8:30 p.m.). The Hurricanes have lost 10 of 15 in their all-time series against Cal-State Fullerton and are 8-4 against USC. UM has never faced Houston.

The Hurricanes will be pitted against three nationally ranked opponents in perhaps their biggest test of the season. Morris thinks it's the best tournament of the regular season and a true barometer on where his teams stands. Miami, coming off three consecutive victories in the Homestead Challenge last weekend, have won six straight after dropping two games to the Florida Gators at the ‘Light'.

"We'll be going up against some tough teams," said Morris. "This is the best tournament in the country."

Despite coming off a three-game series sweep of arch-rival UCLA, the Trojans will enter the tournament at 5-5. The loss of Mark Prior and Rik Currier, both drafted, and injuries to right-handers Anthony Reyes and Brian Bannister created uncertainty on the Trojans pitching staff early on. But freshmen Matt Chico and J. P. Howell, along with Brian Bannister, have combined for a 2-0 record with a 2.12 ERA. They have held opponents to a .223 batting average although Bannister recently had elbow surgery and will be out until May.

Scoring runs hasn't been a problem for the defending Pac-10 champions and 2001 College World Series participants. USC outscored the Bruins 33-7 in a recently completed series, which included an all-time high of 26 runs in a single game. Junior catcher Alberto Conception- second on the team with a .378 batting average- has provided some power in the middle of the Trojans line-up. Conception (14-for-37) has four doubles, one home run and five RBI. Conception, a second team Baseball America Pre-season All-American, was 5-for-11 and threw out three of six runners attempting to steal in a recent series at Long Beach State. Last year, he batted .321 with seven home runs and 41 RBI. As a freshman in 1999, Conception finished with a .299 batting average, eight homeruns and 22 RBI.

Senior centerfielder Brian Barre, who last season led the Trojans in average (.348), home runs (13), stolen bases (20) and slugging percentage (.560), has picked up right where he left off. Barre is currently batting .342 (13-for-38) with a home run and six RBI.

Senior first baseman Bill Peavey, hitting .324 (11-for-34), is also a major part of the USC batting order. Peavey is coming off a career year in which he finished with a .305 batting average with seven home runs and 48 RBI, which tied Barre for the team lead.

Peavey, who hit two home runs in a CWS victory over Georgia, had three hits, including a home run and two RBI, in a 6-3 victory over UCLA, Feb. 24. On the season, he has two home runs and nine RBI.

Sophomore Micheal Moon is considered a steady sparkplug at the top of the order that ignites the Trojans. Moon- batting .278 (10-for-36) with eight RBI this season- is coming off a five-hit, three RBI series performance against Long Beach State, that included a 4-for-4 contest.

Moon was solid as a freshman a year ago, batting .313 with six home runs and 35 RBI. Moon earned Most Outstanding Player honors of the NCAA Regional by going 7-for-13 with a triple, home run and five RBI. Moon, who also stole home against Oral Roberts in the regional, also delivered a game-winning walk-off home run to cap a three-run rally in the bottom of the ninth against Pepperdine.

Junior Anthony Lunetta, who led the Trojans with a .545 batting average at the 2001 College World Series, is looking to resume his solid career at USC after undergoing right elbow surgery in the off-season. Lunetta, a 2002 Baseball America Pre-season All-American, hit .343 with 12 home runs and 50 RBI as a freshman in 2000, earning Pac-10 Freshman of the Year honors.

Cal State Fullerton improved to 9-4 on the season after wining two of three games at Arizona State last weekend. The Titans are batting .305 as a team while its pitching staff has an ERA of 4.34. Sophomore outfielder Shane Costa, who has started in all 13 games, leads the offense with a .404 batting average. Costa is also first in runs scored (15), hits (19) and doubles (7) for the Titans. Costa, sporting a .533 on-base percentage, also has a triple, home run and eight RBI.

Sophomore Richie Burgos has also provided a lift with a .385 batting average- second on the team- in 12 games. Burgos is tied for second on the squad with 15 hits and has an effective ,444 on-base percentage. Junior infielder Mike Martinez is tied for a share of the team lead with 13 RBI and two home runs. Martinez, 9-for-25 on the season, has scored five runs. Sophomore Kyle Boyer (.280) also has 13 RBI with a team-leading five stolen bases.

The Titans pitching staff, which returns just one starter from last season, has picked up eight of the team's nine victories. Sophomore right-hander Wes Littleton has led the way so far with a 3-1 record and 1.59 ERA.

Littleton has 19 strikeouts in 28 1/3 innings pitched and has limited the opposition to a .231 batting average. Littleton has shown excellent control on the mound- four walks all season- and has surrendered nine runs all season (five earned). Senior right-hander Jordan Dejong is 3-0 with a 2.95 ERA in two starts. He has recorded 13 strikeouts in 21 innings and allowed just nine runs to cross the plate (seven earned).

Sophomore right-hander Darric Merrill, who earned a victory against the Hurricanes last season, has been subpar in four starts. Merrill is 2-1 with a 7.11 has given up 16 runs and 24 hits in 19 innings with opponents hitting a combined .312 off him. He has allowed a staff-high three home runs. The Titans also posses one of the top closers in the nation in sophomore right-hander Chad Cordero. Cordero has four saves in seven appearances and has a staff-best 1.54 ERA. Cordero has 16 strikeouts in 11 2/3 innings and has held the opposition to a combined .182 batting average.

The Titans have won three consecutive series since dropping two of three at Stanford to open the season.

The University of Houston, who entered the national rankings for the first time this season earlier in the week, are coming off a 12-11 victory over No. 3 in the Silver Glove Series. UH earned their spot in the polls after going 3-1 against Baylor and LSU, both ranked teams (a game No. 5 Rice scheduled for Tuesday was postponed due to cold weather).

The Cougars are led by junior catcher Chris Snyder and Anthony Scalise, both are hitting .405, with Scalise adding a team-best 11 RBI. Snyder has a homerun and seven RBI. Sophomore Brad Sullivan , slated to start against the Titants, is 2-0 with an 1.11 ERA and 22 strikeouts to lead the pitching staff.

Sophomore right-hander Gene Flores – slated to start against USC on Saturday – has not recorded a decision and has a 2.77 ERA in 13 innings pitched. He has allowed 14 hits and four runs. Flores has 12 strikeouts.

After a slow start offensively and on the mound, the Hurricanes appear to be on a role. Miami is coming off a 27-run weekend that lifted their team batting average to .337. Miami was batting just .251 through the first six games of the season.

Junior Danny Matienzo, who has homered in four of the last five games, is batting .356 with a team-leading seven home runs and 12 RBI. Sophomore Jim Burt has three home runs with 12 RBI and is batting .425. No. 1 starter Troy Roberson, who picked up his first win against FIU last Friday, has a 2.84 ERA with opponents batting .217 against him. In 19 innings pitched, the junior right-hander has 23 strikeouts and allowed 11 runs.

CANES-MARLINS: The Hurricanes will host the Florida Marlins in an exhibition game at Mark Light Stadium, Wednesday, March. 6 at 3:05 p.m. UM is 1-21 all-time in exhibition games since 1950 against professional baseball squads with their only victory coming in 1982 against the Baltimore Orioles.

The Hurricanes, who earned the right to face Florida by finishing as the top-ranked collegiate baseball program last season, are 0-5 against the Marlins. In the last meeting (April 1, 2000), the Marlins defeated UM 12-6. Five Hurricanes remain from that team (Roberson, Rodriguez, Howard, Matienzo and Bengochea).

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