University of Miami

UM, FIU renew baseball rivalry in Coral Gables regional

UM baseball coach Jim Morris
UM baseball coach Jim Morris Miami Herald Staff

The Miami Hurricanes haven’t played FIU in baseball since 2008 — the same year they last went to Omaha, Nebraska, to compete in the College World Series.

“A few guys over there I’ve known since I was a little kid, and now it’s pretty cool to be able to play against them, said UM right fielder Willie Abreu, who noted that he and FIU catcher JC Escarra played together at Hialeah Mater Academy, and that Escarra is “like a brother’’ to him.

“We’re texting right now. We talked on the phone Wednesday night. Just friendly stuff,” Abreu explained, saying Escarra said he was going to try to “hit it off the [UM] garage” during Thursday’s batting practice.

“I said, ‘Go ahead.’”

At 7 p.m. Friday, the former rivalry will be renewed at Mark Light Field at Alex Rodriguez Park, site of the NCAA Coral Gables Regional.

The Hurricanes (44-14), named the No. 5 national seed of 64 teams in the NCAA Division I Baseball Tournament, have won 14 of their past 15 games and will also host American Athletic Conference champion and No.2 regional seed East Carolina (40-20), and Ivy League champion and No.3 regional seed Columbia (31-15).

The winner of the double-elimination tournament, which begins at 1 p.m. Friday with East Carolina facing Columbia, advances to the super regional next weekend. The eight winners of the nationwide super regionals go to the College World Series, which begins June 13.

“That’s been our goal all season, and we’ve definitely set ourselves up well for that,” UM catcher Zack Collins said. “But at this point of the season we’ve got to look at it one game at a time. You look ahead to Omaha and that one game might slip by you.”

FIU (29-29), which won four consecutive games in the Conference USA tournament to receive an automatic bid into a regional, last played at Mark Light Field in the 2010 Coral Gables Regional but was eliminated from the tourney before meeting the Hurricanes.

The teams last met in 2008, Turtle Thomas’ first season as FIU coach. It’s no secret that Miami coach Jim Morris and former UM assistant Thomas had a fallout during the Canes’ national title season in 1999, Thomas’ last season at UM.

“To me, it’s not about FIU, it’s about the tournament,” Morris said Thursday. “That’s all that really matters.”

Both teams will have their Saturday night pitchers start Friday — left-handed junior Andy Suarez (7-1, 3.09 ERA) for the Canes and right-handed freshman Andres Nunez (6-5, 3.75) for the Panthers.

The losing team Friday would have to win four games in a row to win the tournament, including two games on Sunday and the title game Monday.

The winning team could advance with subsequent victories on Saturday and in a Sunday title game.

“You’ve got to get in the winners’ bracket,” Morris said. “If you get in the losers’ bracket it’s a long tournament.”

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

This Canes’ team, loaded with offensive firepower, averages .315 at bat — fifth best in the nation — and leads the nation in on-base percentage (.424). UM ranks fourth in hits and second in runs scored and walks.

Third baseman David Thompson leads the nation with 80 RBI and is tied with a nation-leading 19 home runs.

Expect close to a sellout Friday night, with UM and FIU fans packing The Light.

“They’re going to have a lot of fans,” said UM pitcher Thomas Woodrey of the Panthers. “But if you’ve been at our games all year, you know we probably have some of the best fans in college baseball. So, whatever they bring I’m pretty confident we’re going to bring more, and we’re going to be louder.”

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