The king has been dethroned.
The University of Miami’s often painful uphill journey came crashing to an end Monday when the NCAA Division I Baseball Selection Committee left the Hurricanes out of the 64-team tournament, thereby ending an extraordinary 44-year postseason run that included four national championships.
The 44-year postseason streak was the longest in history for any NCAA Sport.
“It’s an honor and privilege to be a part of the 44,’’ said an emotional coach Jim Morris, 67, who was 22 years old the last time UM did not make it to the postseason in 1972. “The streak, it’s unmatched in any sport in NCAA history. So, to be part of that with [the late] coach [Ron] Fraser, it was an honor. I’m disappointed we didn’t get in.”
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The Hurricanes, who finished sixth in an Atlantic Coast Conference that sent seven teams to the tournament, were one of the last four bubble teams to not make the tournament, according to the ESPN2 live selection broadcast. When the last of 16 regional fields was announced – the Gainesville Regional hosted by the No. 3 national seed Florida Gators – the UM players, gathered in the clubhouse, were painfully silent, staring despondently at the TV screen.
“My heart dropped,’’ said senior first baseman Chris Barr. “I’ve never felt that before. Coming into today was the most nervous I’ve ever been.
“Not a good feeling.’’
All three Hurricanes who spoke to the media were overcome with emotion. Pitcher Frankie Bartow later sat alone in the stands, staring at the empty field.
“Nobody said a word,’’ said senior infielder Johnny Ruiz, the team captain who grew up minutes away from Mark Light Field. “You know, it’s hard being a guy from… being a guy from Coral Gables,’’ he said, stopping to compose himself for several seconds. “I’m sorry,’’ he said, again taking a slow, deep breath. “It’s been an honor to play my four years here.’’
Barr said his teammates hadn’t thought about the pressure Miami baseball has been under every year to keep the streak going.
“Just having the U on our chest,’’ Barr said, “is the biggest honor in the country. It’s the best thing that’s ever happened to me in my life… All the past players here, they’re always watching. I’m gonna be watching the rest of my life. If you cut me open, I’m gonna be orange and green forever.’’
Left-handed ace Jeb Bargfeldt, a junior-college transfer who finished the season 7-3 with a 2.28 ERA, said he would have sacrificed his success for the chance to go to Omaha for the College World Series.
“I’m living out a dream to be able to wear this,’’ Bargfeldt said, pulling at his Canes shirt. “Imagine how I feel and then times it by 10,’’ he said of his distraught teammates who grew up in South Florida. “You know, you could see the hurt on their faces.’’
A tear rolled down Bargfeldt’s cheek.
“It hurts in a part of the human body that you [didn’t] really know you had.’’
The team that now has the longest baseball postseason streak and in only five years could seize the record? Florida State (39-20), UM’s arch-rival and fellow ACC member that earned its 40th consecutive NCAA berth on Monday after winning the ACC tournament championship on Sunday.
The Hurricanes finished their season 31-27 overall, including two wins in the ACC tourney and seven victories in their final 10 games. They won five of their last seven weekend series and were 16-13 in the ACC regular season. Their hitting and defense improved significantly toward the end of the season, and for the most part, their pitching as well. But it wasn’t enough, despite a strength of schedule ranked fifth among 299 Division I teams, according to WarrenNolan.com.
UM’s RPI, updated by Nolan after Sunday’s conference title games: 41.
According to the Associated Press, before UM in 2017, the previous 71 teams to finish at least .500 in ACC play and win two games in the league tournament all made it to the NCAA Tournament.
It severely hurt the Hurricanes’ chances on Sunday when three of four teams lost conference title games that, if they had won, would have helped propel Miami into the tournament. Instead, the three winners grabbed invaluable at-large spots, one of which would likely have been taken by UM.
“We finished third in the Coastal [Division], sixth in the league and third in the [ACC] tournament,’’ Morris said. “I thought that would get us in, to be honest. But our RPI wasn’t as good as I would like for it to be.”
Morris, who ended his 24th season at UM, has been to 32 consecutive regionals, the first nine with Georgia Tech. He has one more year on his contract before assistant Gino DiMare takes over as head coach. Morris has led the Hurricanes to the College World Series 13 times, including in 2015 and ’16. He earned national titles in 1999 and 2001.
“Just gotta regroup as a team and get ready to start fighting again next year,’’ the coach said.
UM’s 44-year streak will not soon be forgotten, especially by the Seminoles, who are within striking distance.
“It’s certainly unprecedented,’’ Jeff Williams, the NCAA’s associate director of media coordination and statistics told the Miami Herald last month regarding the streak. “In 44 years you haven’t stumbled? Look at Texas. They’ve won six national titles and their longest regional streak is 18 years.’’
Ruiz and the others gave no excuses.
“We obviously didn’t play as well as we could have in the beginning of the year, and I think it kind of came back to haunt us,’’ Ruiz said “The last team to not make it in – it doesn’t matter. Sixty-four teams make it, and everyone else doesn’t. When you leave stuff up to the committee’s hands, you’re kind of playing with fire.’’
Miami Herald sportswriter Ethan Bauer contributed to this report.