Postseason hangs in the balance

What is Phil Lane doing these days? Does Neal Heaton have anything left in his arm? Would the Philadelphia Phillies be willing to lend Pat Burrell and Jason Michaels for a few days? At this point, any contributions would probably be accepted.

The Hurricanes (18-18) were swept by the Florida State Seminoles at Mark Light Stadium April 12-14, suffering their fifth home-series loss of the season and sixth overall. UM, who dropped two of three to the Seminoles in Tallahassee a week earlier, has loss seven of their last nine.

While the Seminoles moved up in the rankings with their efforts in Coral Gables, the defending national champion Hurricanes can only ponder what's wrong as their postseason chances dwindle with each passing game.

Miami, who has made an NCAA record 29 straight postseason appearances, is in danger of not playing in a regional for the first time since 1973. The Hurricanes have 20 games remaining in the regular season, including three-game series at North Carolina and Georgia Tech. UM hosts Long Beach State, April 19-21.

"We have to win some ballgames, before we even start worrying about the postseason," said University of Miami head coach Jim Morris, who has made the postseason every year since 1985. "Obviously, we need to be more consistent with the sticks and our pitchers need to do a better job. We still have 20 games left, so the season isn't over. But there is a small margin of error.

"Somehow we have to play through this and finish strong to have a chance. We can't fold and go home cause we still have games to play. But if we don't get it going soon, we'll be home for June." Said senior shortstop Javy Rodriguez, who is hitting a team-high .350, but has committed 13 errors on the season: "I can't put my finger on it. We knew we had a young team coming in, but these guys can play. It's really a combination of things. When we get the bats going, we don't pitch well. When we pitch, we don't hit. And the defense is way down from last year." Stop the presses!

With 13 players from last year's championship team signing pro contacts and the addition of 12 freshmen, Morris admitted even before the 2002 season started that the Hurricanes would have their difficulties early on. Miami lost their starting second baseman, catcher, first baseman, centerfielder and rightfielder.

But Morris never envisioned anything close to what has transpired.

Poor starting pitching, inconsistent offense and numerous lapses defensively have so far led to one of the worse UM baseball seasons ever. In 62 years of existence, the program has had six losing seasons, including the first two seasons of baseball. But none since 1957 when they finished 11-12 under Jimmie Foxx.

Only six times have the Hurricanes lost 18 games or more in a season. The worst records the Hurricanes have complied after 36 games were all winning ones: 18-17-1 in 1966, 22-14 in 1967, 24-12 in 1984 and 21-14-1 in 1987.

At this point last year, the Hurricanes were 27-9 after a victory over Savannah State, which came after Miami was swept at Mark Light Stadium by Cal-State Fullerton. UM went on to finish the season on a 17-game winning steak, which included a win over Stanford in the title game of the College World Series.

The 01' squad concluded the year with a team ERA of 3.87 and hit a collective .308 batting average. Rodriguez led the team with 17 errors, while third baseman Kevin Howard had 13. Although only one other player (Kevin Brown) reached double digits in errors. The Canes outscored the opposition 567-322.

Fast forward: Through 36 games this season, the Hurricanes have barely outscored the opposition (241-240) and are hitting .303. The pitching staff was struggled with an ERA of 5.46 failed in their efforts to determine an ace starter.

Reserve second baseman Paco Figueroa has a .297 batting average (1 HR, 2 RBI) to lead all first-year players. Matt Dryer, who has started 35 games this season, is at .314 with 4 homers and 25 RBI. But Dryer has committed nine errors. Rodriguez current has a team-high .350 batting average and 20 stolen bases.

Sophomore right-hander T.J. Prunty leads the starting rotation with four victories, but hasn't recorded a win in over a month.

Troy Roberson, slowed by recent elbow injury after coming back from surgery, is 1-1 with a 5.12 ERA, while sophomore Kiki Bengochea, expected to be one the Hurricanes key starters, has disappointed with a 2-5 record and 7.12 ERA. Bengochea was 9-4 last year on a staff that included Tom Farmer (15-2, 3.54) and Brian Walker (12-1, 4.22)

"We need to start playing better baseball and that's the bottom line," Morris said. Sooner rather than later.

The Hurricanes have a winning record against every opponent remaining on their regular season schedule (256-63).

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