Young Team Providing Memorable Ride

Talk about one heck of a confusing season. I am talking about the University of Miami baseball team that has had a season of peaks and valleys comparable to the Miami Heat's season this year, although with a talent level that wouldn't even come close when making the comparison to what the Heat has on its roster.

Unlike the Heat which is playing the Dallas Mavericks in the NBA Finals full of veterans and stars, the Hurricanes baseball team is loaded with youth.

After getting swept by Florida early in the season at home, the ‘Canes ran off 16 straight wins, although against lesser opponents to improve to 22-6 before getting into the hardcore part of the ACC schedule.

That's when it seemed the team was falling apart at the seams. Miami lost five of six to Clemson and North Carolina at home. That proves to be no shame now as both are also in the College World Series.

But when it appeared Miami was ready to turn it around after taking two of three in Tallahassee from Florida State, handing their first home losses in a year, the ‘Canes lost two of three again at home, this time to Virginia.

UM's hope of hosting a Regional in Coral Gables was dashed when it lost four of five to Georgia Tech in the season ending series in Atlanta and then in the ACC Tournament in Jacksonville.

Sitting at 36-21, there was no reason whatsoever to think Miami had a chance in hell of getting out of its Regional in Lincoln, Nebraska.

Why?

Besides having to travel to Nebraska to take on the team that sent it packing last year in the Super Regional with a much better team, Miami's pitching in the regular season had been borderline atrocious more often than not against top tier opponents as the ‘Canes 5-12 record against Virginia, Clemson, North Carolina, Georgia Tech and Florida State was proof in pudding.

But somewhere between Miami and Lincoln, the ‘Canes pitching staff figured it out. An 11-2 win over San Francisco put the ‘Canes in the winners bracket in Lincoln where it would face Manhattan, which shocked Nebraska. An 8-2 winner over Manhattan, the ‘Canes seemed destined for a rematch with Nebraska.

Then the unthinkable happened when San Francisco beat Nebraska in the loser's bracket to advance to a match up in an elimination game against Manhattan.

Manhattan won the game and Miami finished off the Regional with a 10-4 dusting of the Jaspers.

The MVP of the Regional only happened to be FRESHMAN Jemile Weeks.

Off to Oxford, Mississippi, to face the Rebels in the Super Regional. Could the pitching possibly be as good as it was in Lincoln?

Nope, but the hitting surely was. However, after Miami blew a 9-3 lead in the first game and lost 11-9, things seemed bleak. How could such a young team recover from such a discouraging loss.

A 7-0 win in Game 2 gave them the confidence to capture Game 3, but it wasn't without some serious drama made for TNT.

Danny Valencia gave Miami a 3-0 first inning lead with a 2-run blast to left. But Miami pitcher Miguel Miguelez forgot his stuff somewhere between Lincoln and Oxford and got drilled the next inning after giving up a couple of walks. A three-run blast later and the game was tied.

But Miami stole the momentum right back with three runs in the bottom of the third for a 6-3 lead.

But Miguelez followed by Marcelo Albir got smoked for four more runs as Ole Miss took a 7-6 lead in the fourth putting the home crowd into a frenzy.

That's when Jim Morris made probably what was the best coaching decision he's made all year when inserted closer Chris Perez into the game to start the fifth inning to try to stymie the Rebels momentum. It worked.

Miami took the lead in the sixth with a pair, but a solo shot by Ole Miss made the lead short lived.

That's when Valencia struck once again, this time with a grand slam in the seventh that left the Rebels in shock. The 13-8 lead was insurmountable as Perez limited the Rebels to two runs over five innings.

Admittedly worn out after the five innings pitched, Perez pitched Miami to Omaha. And the ‘Canes which start four freshman, four juniors and one senior are headed back to Omaha for the 22nd time and tenth trip in Morris' 13 seasons at the helm.

Weeks was once again named MVP of the Super Regional as he dominated the entire weekend, in fact, drawing not one, but two intentional walks. How often does a 5-foot-9, 165 pound second baseman get treated like Barry Bonds? That shows how dominant he was at the plate.

It begs the question. Could the team that is probably the longest shot from wining the CWS actually win the championship with a group of baby-faced freshmen that include Weeks, Blake Tekotte, Dennis Raben and Yonder Alonso?

Not only did the Regional work in Miami's favor and the Super Regional fall into place, but the ‘Canes, one of four ACC teams in the CWS, will not have to face any of the ACC teams until the championship series if they get that far as Clemson, North Carolina and Georgia Tech are on the opposite of the bracket.

On Miami's side of the bracket are Rice, Georgia and the ‘Canes first opponent Oregon State.

With the way this season has gone who really knows if the ‘Canes will win it all, but for the team that opened the season not even ranked in the Top 25 to start the season by Baseball America, one thing is for sure, it's been one memorable ride for this squad that up until the Regional in Lincoln couldn't possibly have been expected to do anything, let alone make a 22nd trip to Omaha where it attempts to win its fifth College World Series in school history.

Rudy Rodriguez-Chomat can be reached at rudy@canestime.com

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