Going gets tough in Canes’ remaining games

Harold Martinez prepares to swing during a game against Appalachian state on Feb. 26. Steven Levy//The Miami Hurricane

With the midpoint of the season long past, the real games are about to begin.

This weekend the University of Miami baseball team will travel up the coast to play the University of North Carolina in what marks the beginning of a mammoth stretch in the Hurricanes’ regular season schedule.

Following the UNC series, Miami will return home to face Florida State in a three-game set before hitting the road again to take on Virginia the following weekend.

All three opponents are nationally-ranked and have been for the majority of the season, with Virginia sitting at No.1 in several polls. The importance of these nine games cannot be overstated.

“We’re in the second half of the ACC [schedule] and every series is a big series; everybody’s fighting,”  head coach Jim Morris said following a 4-1 victory against NC State two weekends ago.

The veteran coach also acknowledged the fact that the ACC has consistently been a powerhouse conference in recent years, pointing to the 2008 Hurricanes as a reference, a squad that came very close to a national championship.

“This is a tough conference…we finished fifth in the ACC in ‘08, and finished fourth in the country. That just shows you how tough,” Morris said.

The Hurricanes have certainly been an enigmatic team at times this season, boasting two separate nine-game win streaks but also sporting an 0-6 record against ranked opponents.

The Hurricanes were swept early in the season by the University of Florida, ranked No. 1 at the time, and again in late March by Georgia Tech.

Nevertheless, Miami is playing at a high level at the moment and is benefiting from key situational hitting, something that was lacking earlier in the year. Just this past weekend, freshman Brad Fieger broke a 2-2 tie in the top of the seventh inning against Maryland by hitting a two-run homerun.

Miami hopes to continue its strong play this weekend against UNC, another member of the extremely competitive Coastal Division.  Currently, Miami has a better ACC record than North Carolina, sitting at 13-4 on the year compared to the Tar Heels’ conference record of 12-6.

The Hurricanes have also won 11 of their last 12 contests, including Wednesday night’s 5-3 victory against Bethune Cookman.

Last season, Miami swept a three game series against North Carolina, but both teams  have a very different look compared to 2010, considering that each lost elite players to the 2010 MLB Draft.

The New York Mets took UNC pitcher Matt Harvey with the seventh overall pick, and the Cincinnati Reds drafted Hurricane star Yasmani Grandal with the 12th pick.

The Tar Heels have also been inconsistent throughout the season; they took two of three from Florida State and swept Clemson, but were swept by NC State.

The Canes will be mindful of the fact that from this point forward, their games will suddenly mean a lot more.

Adam Berger may be contacted at aberger@themiamihurricane.com.