Eye on the U

Miami Hurricanes baseball must win starting tonight; what you need to know

Miami Hurricanes pitcher Evan McKendry throws against FIU at University Park on March 8. McKendry was slated to start Tuesday night at home against Florida Gulf Coast.
Miami Hurricanes pitcher Evan McKendry throws against FIU at University Park on March 8. McKendry was slated to start Tuesday night at home against Florida Gulf Coast. adiaz@miamiherald.com

No matter how optimistic University of Miami baseball coach Jim Morris says he is, his team’s chances to earn an NCAA tournament berth without winning next week’s Atlantic Coast Conference Tournament are likely less than slim.

But that doesn’t mean impossible.

The most important week of the regular season begins tonight for the University of Miami baseball team, as its final four games of the regular schedule will be played, beginning with Florida Gulf Coast (34-16) of the ASUN Conference at 7 p.m. at Mark Light Field.

Miami (25-26 overall, 13-13 ACC) lost its previous two games earlier this season against FGCU. Since its second loss to the Eagles on April 12, UM has gone 10-8.

To even be considered by the selection committee for the field-of-64 NCAA Division I Baseball Tournament, a team’s winning percentage must be over .500. But being over .500 does not ensure that a team gets into the tournament.

Winning a league’s tournament, however, provides automatic entry into an NCAA regional.

UM is riding a 44-year NCAA tournament streak, a national record.

The Hurricanes need to win all four games this week to have a winning percentage over .500 going into the ACC tourney. The final three-game series is Thursday through Saturday against Virginia Tech (22-29, 9-18). Keep in mind that the Canes will play at least two games in the ACC tournament, and those games count toward the final winning percentage before the selection committee chooses the NCAA tourney field.

The reason UM effectively needs to win all four this week instead of, say, three of four games that would put them at 28-27 (above .500) going into the ACC tourney, is that its April 5 victory against St. Thomas, an NAIA school, will not count in the NCAA baseball committee’s calculations of the Hurricanes’ winning percentage.

So, think of UM’s record as 24-26 when doing your calculations, and know that winning against better teams increases the chances of making it into an NCAA regional.

Miami’s RPI going into Tuesday night’s game was 61 of 299 teams.

FGCU’s RPI is 55 and Virginia Tech’s is 114.

“We’ve been struggling a little bit,’’ Miami coach Jim Morris said Monday night on Hurricane Hotline. “But I’m still confident in my mind when I go to sleep every night that we’re getting better, and I talk to the team a lot about it.

“I think our confidence level is very important. I think we’re getting better and I think we’ve still got a chance to go to the NCAA tournament and we just gotta believe in ourselves. Our hitters, some of them are starting to believe in themselves more and more and we’ve got to pitch and play good defense.’’

Last season, for comparison’s sake, ACC-member Wake Forest earned an NCAA berth as a No. 3 seed after ending the regular season 32-23, before going 2-2 in the ACC tournament to finish at 34-25 before its regional.

UM has the seventh best winning percentage out of 14 teams in its conference, but it still needs to have that better-than-.500 percentage against all its competitors.

Miami, hitting .224 as a team, has nonetheless done better of late, with senior Johnny Ruiz hitting .538 last week and junior Carl Chester hitting .429 last weekend at Virginia.

Left-handed junior Jeb Bargfeldt (6-3, 2.28 ERA) has been outstanding. In nine ACC starts, Bargfeldt is 5-2 with a 1.68 ERA.

Right-handed freshman Evan McKendry (3-2, 3.68) will face right-handed junior Peyton Gray (3-2, 4.71) tonight.