The last time the University of Miami baseball team failed to qualify for the NCAA tournament, the Vietnam War was raging, Richard Nixon was president and the word “Watergate’’ was about to enter the nation’s collective consciousness.
That was 1972.
Forty-five years later, the Hurricanes are in jeopardy of ending their mind-boggling, national-record streak of 44 consecutive NCAA regionals.
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“It’s certainly unprecedented,’’ said Jeff Williams, the NCAA’s associate director of media coordination and statistics. “In 44 years you haven’t stumbled? Look at Texas. They’ve won six national titles and their longest regional streak is 18 years.”
UM, four-time national champions and College World Series competitors the past two seasons, are now 17-19 overall and 9-9 in the Atlantic Coast Conference.
With 20 regular-season games left as they prepare to host FAU on Wednesday and ACC-rival Florida State this weekend, the Hurricanes need to win – and keep winning.
It’s certainly unprecedented. In 44 years you haven’t stumbled? Look at Texas. They’ve won six national titles and their longest regional streak is 18 years.
Jeff Williams, the NCAA’s associate director of media coordination and statistics.
To even be considered by the 10-member NCAA Division I Baseball Committee for the field-of-64 tournament, the Hurricanes need to have a better than .500 Division I record (including games in the ACC Tournament). They would qualify automatically by winning the ACC Tournament, which would be quite a feat considering three of the nation’s top five teams – Louisville, North Carolina and Clemson – are in the ACC.
UM’s April 5 victory against St. Thomas, an NAIA school, will not count in the NCAA baseball committee’s calculations of the Hurricanes’ winning percentage.
That means UM needs to win at least 12 regular season games and another game in the ACC tourney to even have a shot.
“To me, every game right now is important,’’ said UM coach Jim Morris, who has led the Canes to two national titles and 13 trips to Omaha for the College World Series. “I can’t put one game above another one.’’
Twelve of 14 ACC teams qualify for the league tournament, and UM for now is solidly entrenched in sixth place with its 9-9 league record.
The Seminoles, also not as dominant this year at 23-15 overall and tied with UM at 9-9 in the conference, have 39 consecutive NCAA berths, second to UM. The last thing Miami wants is to surrender its streak to the Seminoles.
The Canes have won their past two ACC series – at Pitt and against Duke – and have raised their team batting average from .205 to a still meek .214, but have yet to sweep a weekend series. The loss of several big-time hitting/fielding stars to pro baseball (catcher Zack Collins, shortstop Brandon Lopez and right-fielder Willie Abreu among them), combined with several injuries (freshman standout Michael Amditis, for instance, was hitting .357 when he broke his leg March 1 at FAU) and their struggles at the plate, especially with runners in scoring position, have proven a combustible combination.
12Of 14 ACC teams qualify for the league tournament, and UM for now is solidly entrenched in sixth place with its 9-9 league record.
“The hitting is getting better,’’ Morris said Monday, “but the key is getting big hits at the right time. We’ve just got to worry about the game, the day, the at-bat, and not worry about the end of the season.’’
After the same amount of games in 2016, UM had a .291 team batting average, with one starter (Collins) hitting over .400 and three over .300.
Now, UM has no one at .300, with Carl Chester leading the way at .272 and only one hitter, Romy Gonzalez, over .250.
Defensively, the Canes have 44 errors this season compared to 24 at this point last year.
Miami had the No. 3 RPI of 299 teams last season, and had the No. 75 RPI as of Monday, though they have jumped up 10 spots from last week.
The lone bright spot: pitching.
Left-handed junior-college transfer Jeb Bargfeldt is 4-2 with a 1.69 ERS – 1.19 against ACC competition, and will be moved from Saturday night to the No. 1 starter on Friday against FSU. That, in turn, will move up last year’s ace, left-handed junior Michael Mediavilla (4-4, 4.23), from Sunday to Saturday.
Sunday’s starter will be current mid-week pitcher Gregory Veliz (3-2, 2.41), a right-handed freshman.
And right-handed junior Jesse Lepore (1-5, 5.08), who was 9-0 with a 2.20 ERA last year as the mid-week starter, has struggled on Friday nights and will be given this week off before he returns for a mid-week game next week, Morris said.
Starting for UM on Wednesday against FAU (24-10-1) will be Evan McKendry (2-1, 3.99).
“Of course it hurts to lose, but we still come out with a positive attitude every game,’’ Mediavilla said. “We’re finding our groove when it matters most, and we’re fighting.’’