When University of Miami baseball coach Jim Morris first looked at who could be the Hurricanes’ potential opponent if it got to the super regional round, some names immediately jumped out at him.
“I saw Dallas Baptist, Oregon State — which could have been a No.1 seed — and Texas and I said that could be the toughest regional across the board,” Morris said.
Virginia Commonwealth, only the fifth No. 4 seed to ever advance to the super regionals, is the final obstacle for the Hurricanes as they try to clinch their first College World Series berth since 2008.
That fact hasn’t changed Morris’ opinion on the degree of difficulty for his team this weekend.
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“To see VCU come out of that [regional] showed me a lot about the type of club they have and the coaching they have and the leadership on that team,” Morris said.
“It gave me instant respect for [VCU], because I know how hard it is to beat those programs they did.”
UM (47-15) hosts the Rams (40-23), the lowest remaining seed in the NCAA tournament, beginning at noon Friday at Mark Light Field at Alex Rodriguez Park. Every game in the best-of-3 series is scheduled for a noon start.
The Hurricanes reached their first super regional since 2010 and could advance to Omaha without having to face a team seeded higher than No.3 in its regional.
Morris said his team isn’t taking anyone lightly after a the loss to Columbia last week put UM in a must-win situation this past Monday.
VCU is one of the hottest teams in the nation regardless of seeding, having won 14 of its past 15 games, and rode that late-season surge to an Atlantic 10 championship after winning its final six conference games just to qualify for the conference tournament.
VCU’s opponents leading up to the regional round finished with a combined record of 154-157-3. But VCU’s three regional victories came against Oregon State and Dallas Baptist (twice) — both of which are ranked in the Top 25. Dallas Baptist held the nation’s top RPI for most of the season until the Hurricanes rose to the top spot in late May.
“We talked about it, and we know VCU hasn’t been to the super regional, but if you point out who they beat to get here you know they have to be good to make that happen,” Morris said. “These guys expect to come down here and win our tournament, and they have the same expectations we do.”
Led by All-American third baseman David Thompson, the Hurricanes lineup figures to be one of the most potent VCU has faced all season. UM has scored at least six runs in seven of its past nine games, scored double-digits in three of those games and at least eight runs in five of them.
Thompson was selected Thursday as one of five finalists for the Dick Howser Trophy. Thompson, the nation’s leader in home runs (19) and RBI (85) is the only finalist from an Atlantic Coast Conference school and hopes to become UM’s second winner of the award, joining Mike Fiore, who won the inaugural award in 1987.
“We’re trying to not do too much and stay within our game,” Thompson said. “We’ve faced a lot of good arms all season, so we just have to stay patient at the plate, put the ball in play and make them play good defense.”
Pitching has clearly been VCU’s strength, having not allowed more than three runs in a game in its final 15 games. The team has an ERA of 2.86, led by senior lefties Heath Dwyer (10-2, 2.85 ERA) and Jojo Howie (8-6, 2.93).
VCU’s third starter, Sean Thompson, a right-handed freshman (6-3, 3.48), gave up one run on three hits in 51/3 innings in the regional-clinching win against Dallas Baptist.
Senior Daniel Concepcion, a native of Puerto Rico, is the team’s closer with 14 saves, a 3-3 record and a 2.58 ERA in 26 appearances.
Morris believes that Miami’s pitching staff (3.03 team ERA) could tip the scales in its favor this weekend.
Morris will keep the top of his starting rotation the same with junior lefties Andrew Suarez (8-1, 3.04 ERA) and Thomas Woodrey (7-2, 2.84) pitching Friday and Saturday, respectively. Morris hinted earlier this week he might start sophomore lefty Danny Garcia (7-1, 3.25) if there is a decisive third game.
“Ultimately, they say pitching wins out, and [VCU] is pitching with confidence, but so are our pitchers,” Morris said. “We talk a lot about our runs, but let’s look at our ERA and what our pitchers have done. Hopefully, we can put a few runs up early and continue what we’ve been doing.”
Super regional schedule
GM1: VCU vs. UM, noon Friday, ESPNU
GM2: VCU vs. UM, noon Saturday, ESPNU
*GM3: VCU vs. UM, noon Sunday