University of Miami catcher Zack Collins waited for what seemed like a lifetime to get to Omaha, Nebraska for the College World Series.
Add closer Bryan Garcia, starting pitcher Thomas Woodrey and right fielder Willie Abreu to the waiting list.
In reality, it only took two seasons for Collins, Abreu and Garcia to reach college baseball’s holy land– and three for Woodrey.
But once the four standouts and their talented teammates arrived, the journey ended far too fast – after three games to be exact, two of them losses to the Florida Gators.
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“We got a taste of it, and now we want more,’’ said preseason junior All-American Garcia.
“If I told you what it was like I wouldn’t be telling the truth because there are no words to explain that experience,’’ fellow preseason All-American Collins said of UM’s first trip to the CWS since 2008. “It was amazing.’’
Woodrey, a senior who went 7-2 with a 2.88 ERA last season, will make his first opening-night start against Rutgers at 7 p.m. Friday, when the Canes begin their 2016 campaign to return to Omaha.
“We won a lot of big games last year and that’s why we got back there,’’ Woodrey said. “We were a group of really motivated guys who got along really well, for the most part stayed calm and went about our business in a good way.’’
The Hurricanes return a veteran squad that in 2015 (50-17) led the nation in total runs (547) and finished second nationally in scoring (averaging 8.2 runs a game) and on-base percentage (.417) and seventh in batting average (.307).
They finished eighth nationally with eight shutouts, and 27th in team ERA (3.15).
The Canes won their second consecutive Coastal Division title in the Atlantic Coast Conference last season and are ranked as high as fourth by Collegiate Baseball and sixth by Baseball America, D1Baseball.com and in the USA Today coaches’ poll.
“I love all the rankings because we’ve got good players,’’ Hurricanes coach Jim Morris said. “I hope the rankings are right, because top eight [at the end of the season] would put us in Omaha. But we lost a lot of good hitters, and we lost [top pitcher] Andy Suarez. We’ve got some holes to fill with David Thompson [.328 and 90 RBI] and George Iskenderian [.364 and 55 RBI] and Ricky Eusebio [.286 with 19 stolen bases] and Garrett Kennedy [.320 with 51 RBI] gone. Every one of them had a career year.’’
But the Canes still have Collins (.302 and 70 RBI), All-ACC outfielder Abreu (.288), second-team All-ACC selection Woodrey and all-CWS outfielder Jacob Heyward (.327).
“We have most of our pitching back and our bullpen is intact – very solid,’’ Morris said.
The Canes’ bullpen has three outstanding veterans: right-handed submarine pitcher Cooper Hammond (5-1, 2.25), left-handed freshman All-American Michael Mediavilla (3-2, 1.94) and right-handed Garcia (6-2, 2.50).
Morris said the only freshman who will start Friday is Romy Gonzalez at third base. Gonzalez, an American Senior High graduate, hit .420 last season, with four home runs and 36 RBI.
The top newcomers include Andrew Cabezas, a 6-0, 180-pound freshman out of Coral Gables Senior High. Cabezas was drafted by Cleveland in the 34th round of the 2015 MLB draft. He finished 6-3 last season with 84 strikeouts and a 0.39 ERA. He only walked eight batters.
Junior college transfer Randy Batista, an infielder out of Indian River State, will challenge for playing time up the middle, though senior shortsop Brandon Lopez and junior second baseman Johnny Ruiz are veterans.
“We definitely could be even better than last year,’’ Garcia said. “Being in Omaha was fun. But we realized we didn’t play to our full potential, so it kind of left a sour taste in our mouths. We definitely want to get back there and have a better showing.’’
At a glance
Coach: Jim Morris; Last year: 50-17 (Went 2-1 in College World Series); Top players: C Zack Collins (Jr.), P Thomas Woodrey (Sr.), P Bryan Garcia (Jr.), OF Willie Abreu (Jr.), OF Jacob Heyward (Jr.); Noteworthy: Miami extended its own college baseball record by qualifying for the 2015 NCAA Tournament for the 43rd consecutive year. Morris has led the Canes to 12 College World Series appearances since coming to UM in 1994, winning national titles in 1999 and 2001. UM also won titles in 1982 and 1985.
February: 19-21 vs. Rutgers; 24 vs. St. Thomas; 26-28 vs. Florida.
March: 1 Miami Marlins (exhibition) at Jupiter; 2 vs. Florida Gulf Coast; 4-6 vs. Manhattan; 8 vs. Maine; 9 vs. Stetson; 11-13 at *Virginia Tech; 16 at UCF; 18-20 vs. *Louisville; 23 vs. Bethune-Cookman; 25-27 vs. *Clemson; 30 at FAU.
April: 1-3 vs. *North Carolina; 5 at FGCU; 8-10 at *Notre Dame; 13 vs. UCF; 15-17 at *Duke; 20 vs FAU; 22-24 vs. *Virginia; 29-30 vs. FAMU.
May: 1 vs. FAMU; 4 vs. FAU; 7-9 at *Georgia Tech; 10 vs. Bethune-Cookman; 13-15 vs. *Pittsburgh; 17 vs FGCU; 19-21 at *Florida State; 24-29 ACC Tournament at Durham, N.C.