Miami Hurricanes’ eyes on Omaha, but focused on regional first

05/30/2014 12:01 AM

05/30/2014 10:13 PM

The program that leads all collegiate sports with an active NCAA postseason streak of 42 years wants to begin another one this weekend at Alex Rodriguez Park.

Until 2007, the Miami Hurricanes had won 13 consecutive NCAA baseball regional championships to advance to the next round. Since then, the Hurricanes have won two of seven.

“We’re due, no question about it,” UM coach Jim Morris said, referring to a trip to the College World Series, not just a regional championship.

To even have a chance to get to Omaha, Nebraska, and add to their four national titles, the top-seeded Hurricanes’ first obstacles will be Bethune-Cookman and its stellar starter at 7 p.m. Friday in the Coral Gables Regional.

Despite a losing record, the No. 4 seed Wildcats (26-31) have a right-handed senior ace in Montana Durapau (11-1, 1.71 ERA). Durapau has beaten the Hurricanes (41-17) in his past two starts against them and kept them hitless in a relief appearance before that.

“The pitcher for a baseball game is like the quarterback for football,” Morris said. “He changes the game. This guy is outstanding.”

The winner of the double-elimination regional, which begins at 2 p.m. Friday with No. 2 regional seed Texas Tech (40-18) vs. No. 3 Columbia (29-18), advances to the super regional next weekend. The eight winners of the nationwide super regionals go to the College World Series, which begins June 14.

Today’s UM players grew up watching as their predecessors qualified 11 times (the last time in 2008) for the College World Series in Morris’ past 20 seasons at Miami.

“I think this is the year we’re going to get back,” said left-handed redshirt sophomore Andy Suarez (5-3, 3.22), who will start against Bethune-Cookman. “It’s very exciting that I get to set the tone for the playoffs.”

Suarez, who is 6-0 and 205 pounds, is projected as UM’s top draft pick, Morris said. His two best pitches are his fastball, which sits in the low 90s and has reached 95, and his changeup. He also throws a mean slider and curve.

Suarez allowed three runs in 6 1/3 innings in the ACC tournament opener May 21 against eventual tourney champion Georgia Tech. He was replaced by Cooper Hammond, who took his first loss.

“He’s fine,” Morris said of Suarez. “We just didn’t score runs.”

Before the ACC opener, Suarez pitched in UM’s 11-2 home loss May 16 to North Carolina. He lasted only two innings, allowing seven runs on nine hits.

In UM’s 7-3 home loss to Bethune-Cookman on March 11, pitcher Javi Salas allowed six runs on six hits in the first inning. The Canes stranded seven runners that day against Durapau, who struck out seven and allowed three runs — two earned — on nine hits and two walks.

The next time the teams met at Miami on April 2, the Canes won 10-1, with Salas earning the victory in relief. John Sever took the loss.

Bethune-Cookman coach Jason Beverlin, whose Wildcats got to the NCAA tournament by winning the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference tournament, indicated Monday that B-CU’s success at Miami would keep his players confident.

“Our guys aren’t going to be overwhelmed by the situation because we played them before and had success,” Beverlin said in a video released by Bethune-Cookman after he learned of his regional destination. “It’s nice to have a really good record but, in reality, the teams that advance are the teams are are hot at the end of the season.”

On the ESPNU show that revealed the 16 regional sites, college baseball analysts discussed how UM’s bracket was paired with Florida’s, and how the two teams could end up meeting in Gainesville for the super regionals.

Beverlin took note, saying that “everybody is kind of looking past the whole regional and already setting up the showdown between Miami and Florida. I hope that continues and they look past us, and we come out and play the way we can.”

In 2012, the last time the Hurricanes hosted a regional, they drew a bracket with Stony Brook and got eliminated. The program they knew nothing about won the regional and later advanced to the College World Series.

“We’re excited for Friday, not for the super regionals,” said UM left fielder Tyler Palmer, who is hitting .294 with a .422 slugging percentage and team-leading 18 stolen bases. “We don’t want 2012 to happen when we’re already looking ahead, and it comes back to bite us in the butt.”

• UM left-handed ace Chris Diaz (9-0, 2.25 ERA) was named to the Louisville Slugger First Team on Thursday. The Canes won every regular-season game this year started by Diaz, who is just the 10th UM player to earn a spot on the first team.

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