University of Miami baseball fans should bring their raincoats Friday and Saturday to Alex Rodriguez Park, where thunderstorms are forecast during the NCAA Coral Gables Regional.
But the situation could get gloomier for the host-team Hurricanes, playing in their national-record 40th consecutive postseason, should they be forced to compete without their star player.
UM coach Jim Morris said Thursday that the status of senior Peter O’Brien was in question. Morris said O’Brien, who missed the last 17 games of the regular season and first game of the Atlantic Coast Conference tournament with a broken left wrist, wasn’t able to hit Wednesday because of pain in the wrist.
“That’s not a good sign,’’ Morris said just before noon. “I don’t know where he’s at.’’
The top-seeded Canes (36-21) meet No. 4 seed Stony Brook (46-11) of Suffolk County, N.Y., at 7 p.m., after the 2 p.m. opener featuring No. 2 seed UCF (43-15) and No. 3 Missouri State (39-20).
O’Brien, a 6-5, 225-pound right-handed catcher who is unable to catch because of the pounding his wrist would take, is a first-team All-ACC player who leads the Hurricanes with a .338 batting average, .633 slugging percentage and 10 home runs. He is the only Cane averaging at least .300 on an offensively struggling team.
“There’s nothing that he can’t do that will hurt him physically other than being able to deal with the pain,’’ said Morris, adding that O’Brien — scheduled to see the team doctor Thursday afternoon — also complained of pain while fielding ground balls Wednesday at first base, where he played during the ACC tournament. “He’s having trouble rotating his wrist when he follows through, so it’s creating pain — and he’s having to let go of the bat. It’s just a question of how much pain he can tolerate.
“He may not [play], but it’s do or die now. The No. 1 thing we need is his bat in the lineup.’’
Morris also revealed another surprise Thursday. Instead of starting left-handed junior pitcher Steven Ewing (6-2, 3.28 ERA) for the opener, he will go with usual Friday-night left-handed starter Eric Erickson (8-5, 2.84). It is the first time anyone can recall Morris not starting the No. 2 or 3 pitcher against the lowest seed in a regional, though he said all three of his top starters — including right-handed junior Eric Whaley (4-4, 2.47) — could be considered No. 1 pitchers.
Erickson, a graduate student back after two Tommy John surgeries, said previously that he thought he might not pitch at Mark Light Field again after the regular season. But he and his teammates were thrilled when the NCAA Division I Baseball Committee awarded UM with the double-elimination regional, mostly because of its No. 12 RPI and No. 3 strength of schedule. The Canes, who won four national titles between 1982 and 2001, are 116-39 in regionals. They have won a combined 28 consecutive regional and super regional tournaments at The Light.
“This is the reason I’m back,’’ said Erickson, the lone Cane who has been to Omaha for the College World Series (2008). “This is the best part about college baseball.’’
The Stony Brook Seawolves, who have the best winning percentage in Division I (.807), had not been seen by the Hurricanes as of Thursday, Morris said, because “there’s no film we’ve been able to get.’’
He said he hoped to watch them in batting practice, but that was not possible Thursday because the field was covered with tarp to protect it from rain, forcing all four teams to scatter to local batting facilities.
The Seawolves, America East Conference champions, have won 22 of their past 23 games. They have one victory in four regional appearances since 2004, and are led by America East Player of the Year Travis Jankowski, whose .411 batting average is eighth-best in the nation. A center fielder, Jankowski hit .600 during the recent conference tournament.
Right-handed senior Tyler Johnson (9-1, 1.78), who earned Stony Brook’s lone regional victory against North Carolina State in 2010, will start Friday.
Other notable Seawolves: third baseman Willie Carmona, who is batting .380 with a conference-leading 10 home runs and 60 RBI; and Maxx Tissenbaum, who is batting .400 and leads the country in fewest strikeouts — four in 200 at-bats.
“All year we put our heads down and played,’’ Stony Brook catcher Pat Cantwell said. “It’s an amazing opportunity to be here, so we’re going to go out and play hard.’’
The winner of UM’s regional advances to the super regionals next weekend against the winner of the LSU-hosted regional in Baton Rouge — at LSU should the Tigers win.