The NCAA Division I Baseball Committee bestowed its good graces on the University of Miami baseball program the past two days.
First, on Sunday, it designated Miami one of 16 host teams for this weekend’s opening round of the NCAA tournament to soften the pain of losing to Georgia Tech in the Atlantic Coast Conference tournament title game.
Then, on Monday, it ensured that the Hurricanes – named a No. 1 regional seed — will not have to face the top-ranked Florida Gators in the first round of the national tournament or second round super regional should the Canes get that far.
Coming to Alex Rodriguez Park in Coral Gables for the double-elimination regional that begins Friday: No. 4 seed Stony Brook (46-11), which will face UM (36-21) at 7 p.m. Friday; and No. 2 seed UCF (43-15), which meets No. 3 seed Missouri State (39-20) at 2 p.m.
UM has advanced to a regional for an NCAA-record 40 consecutive years.
“This is the greatest time of the year, other than when you’re in Omaha,” said UM coach Jim Morris, who got to the College World Series in 11 of his previous 18 seasons at UM and led the Hurricanes to two (1999 and 2001) of its four national titles since coming to Coral Gables in 1994. “Everybody is 0-0 right now.
“At this time, everybody is pretty hot. Our job between now and Friday is to get as much information as we can on Stony Brook and get ready to play the game.”
The Canes have not been to Omaha since 2008. They have lost 11 consecutive games to the Gators and have been eliminated by them in each of the past three postseasons. There was a chance UM’s regional bracket could have been paired with Florida’s, creating a possible collision course for both programs.
But instead, the Canes have been paired with LSU, the No. 7 national seed. If UM and LSU (43-16) emerge victorious this weekend, they would meet in Baton Rouge for a super regional next weekend.
“LSU is a great program,” Morris said. “We need to play well in our regional and then worry about [the rest] after that.”
The Canes have had a bumpy season, neither hitting nor fielding particularly well. But they have won nine of their past 13 games, and last week got back top hitter Peter O’Brien (.338, 10 home runs), who missed 18 games with a broken left wrist.
O’Brien, a catcher, played first base in the recent tournament to eliminate some of the pounding his wrist would take behind the plate. Morris said he hasn’t determined where O’Brien will play this weekend.
“He will remain in the lineup, I can tell you that,” Morris said. “I won’t decide the lineup until Friday.”
Morris also wouldn’t commit to a starting pitcher against Stony Brook, which has the best winning percentage (.807) in Division I. However, usual Friday night pitcher Eric Erickson (8-5, 2.84 ERA) hinted that recent Saturday night pitcher Steven Ewing (6-2, 3.28) might get the nod for the opener.
“I fully expect to start one of the games,” Ewing said Monday. “I’m ready for it.”
The Canes are most excited about the prospect of facing UCF, the team that elicited the most cheers from UM when it was announced on ESPN that the Knights would come to Coral Gables.
The Hurricanes defeated then-No. 19 UCF 3-2 on March 14, and lost 4-1 at home to then-No. 14 UCF on April 4.
All-Regional ticket passes are $90 for field box, $60 for chairback and $45 for general admission. All-Regional general admission passes are available now by visiting hurricanesports.com, but All-Regional field box and chairback passes will be available Wednesday.
Daily passes (“individual sessions”) will be available online at 8:30 a.m. Thursday. They also will be sold at the Hurricanes ticket office at the Hecht Athletic Center on San Amaro Drive or by calling 305-284-8153.