Dale Carey and Chantz Mack recall sitting in the University of Miami clubhouse last May and learning from ESPN that the Hurricanes’ baseball regional would encompass Stony Brook, Missouri State and UCF.
“We were like, ‘I don’t see how any of those teams can beat us,’” Carey said. “We came out of the locker room and were already talking about going to Baton Rouge to play LSU in the next round.”
Said Mack: “It taught all of us a lesson.”
The four-time national champion Hurricanes went two-and-out in the postseason for the first time since 1993. And now, they open the 2013 season against Rutgers at 7 p.m. Friday a humbled bunch — unranked in any of the major polls.
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This season, depending on what this new crop of Canes can deliver, it might be the competition underestimating Miami.
UM coach Jim Morris said this is the first time since 1994, his first year coaching at Miami, that the Canes are not ranked in the Top 25.
“It’s a slap in the face as far as I’m concerned,” he said. “Needless to say I’ve talked a little about that.”
Mack, the usual right fielder who might be used as the designated hitter Friday but is doubtful to play in the field because of a groin pull, according to Morris, said it is Miami that is “under the radar” now.
“No one is giving us a shot,” said Mack, who has consistently strengthened his game, finishing 2012 with UM’s third-best batting average (.289) and second-best on-base-percentage (.399).
The Hurricanes were outscored 22-4 at home in their final two games of 2012, and finished 36-23 last season. Except for third baseman Brad Fieger, the UM infield is new.
But those newcomers make up one of the best recruiting classes in the nation according to college baseball publications and websites.
Collegiate Baseball named the Hurricanes’ newest class ninth best in the nation, and Baseball America ranked it 10th.
Morris said Thursday that freshman David Thompson — who doubles as a Hurricanes quarterback — will likely begin his UM baseball career Friday as the first baseman. Chris Barr, another freshman, was supposed to start at first, with Thompson as designated hitter, but Mack’s injury caused a lineup shuffle.
Palm Beach State transfer Alex Hernandez will start at second, with freshman Brandon Lopez (Plantation American Heritage alum) at short and senior Alex San Juan behind the plate.
Former second baseman Michael Broad has moved to left field, with Carey — UM’s highest-rated draft prospect for 2013 — in center.
Should Mack be scratched defensively from Friday’s lineup, Morris said Tyler Palmer will replace him in right field.
“Things still could change,” the coach said.
Sophomore Chris Diaz, a left-handed middle reliever and spot starter in 2012 with a 2-1 record and 4.18 ERA, will start in the opener.
“I just feel blessed,” Diaz said. “All the hard work is paying off now.”
Javi Salas (6-3, 3.21), a 6-4, 227-pound junior, will start Saturday, with sophomore Andrew Suarez throwing Sunday. Suarez, who graduated from Miami Columbus in 2011, was drafted in the ninth round by the Toronto Blue Jays out of high school.
UM is missing two of its top pitchers: 6-3, 190-pound right-handed senior Eric Whaley, who said he has a tight throwing shoulder and was expected to get the start had he been healthy; and left-handed junior Bryan Radziewski, who is coming off shoulder surgery.
“Some guys take longer than others to come back,” Morris said of Radziewski. “Chris Diaz deserves to start because he has pitched better than anyone else. That’s the real deal. He’s got a very good fastball and outstanding curveball.”
Rutgers announced it will start lefty Rob Smorol (8-4, 3.46 in 2012) on Friday, with righty Tyler Gebler (3-5, 4.54) throwing Saturday and righty Charlie Law (1-3, 5.35) starting Sunday.
Smorol also started in last year’s season opener against the Canes. Miami won that game 6-2 and swept the series.
Friday’s and Saturday’s games will be televised live on ESPN3.