‘We’re in a good position’: Hurricanes ready to defend home field in regionals

Junior left-handed pitcher/utility JP Gates pitches to Boston College on Sunday, March 13, 2022 at Mark Light Field. Photo credit: Alex Carnochan
Junior left-handed pitcher/utility JP Gates pitches to Boston College on Sunday, March 13, 2022 at Mark Light Field.
Junior left-handed pitcher/utility JP Gates pitches to Boston College on Sunday, March 13, 2022 at Mark Light Field. Photo credit: Alex Carnochan

With only hours left until first pitch, four teams from different regions of the country are set to battle it out in Coral Gables for a chance to advance to the super regionals of the NCAA tournament.

The Miami Hurricanes (39-18, 20-10 Atlantic Coast Conference) will host, Ole Miss (32-22, 14-16 Southeastern Conference), Canisius (29-23, 15-9 Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference) and Arizona (37-23, 16-14 Pacific-12).

“Over the course of the season, our guys played well enough to be a top-eight seed, and we’re in a good position. There’s a lot of ways to get to Omaha and win it, but one of them certainly helps to be at home,” Miami head coach Gino DiMare said.

The Canes enter with the best record of the four teams and bring quality pitching to the table. Sophomores Carson Palmquist and Andrew Walters were both tabbed First Team All-ACC members. Palmquist finished with 108 strikeouts and was fifth in the ACC in ERA (3.09). Walters has been a proficient closer for Miami, not giving up a run until his 17thappearance and was sixth in the country in saves (13).

Offensively, Miami finished seventh in runs scored in the ACC. Individually, Miami is led by All-ACC Second Team members in sophomores Jacob Burke, CJ Kayfus and Yohandy Morales.

Burke led Miami in RBI (56) over the regular season and was second in batting average (.351) and slugging (.597). Kayfus, despite batting first in his starts, hit 50 RBI and led the team in batting average (.369). Morales’s 14 home runs led his team and built off a Freshman All-America season last year.

Arizona lost many of its top bats from last season but bounced back by making its second straight NCAA tournament appearance.

The Wildcats’ offense garnered 413 runs, which was fourth in the Pac-12, and showed patience at the plate as they drew 260 walks, third in the conference.

Arizona has a steady pitching staff, as their team ERA of 4.81 was sixth in the conference. The team from Tucson is led by Quinn Flanagan, a Pac-12 All-Conference team member, who finished with a 1.72 ERA in 47 innings pitched.

“He’s been huge,” Arizona head coach Chip Hale said. “It’s all about matchups at this time of the year, so if we have a spot in the order where Quinn matches up better than Trevor [Long], he would probably close. We are going to go back and forth with that.”

Down the stretch, Arizona showed tough competitiveness against some of the best in the country, downing the second-ranked Oregon State Beavers in two of three attempts only a few weeks ago.

The third-seeded Ole Miss Rebels entered this year after having their 2021 season ended by Arizona in super regionals.

“We’re just excited to play. Ironically, we play the team that we finished the season with last year,” Ole Miss head coach Mike Bianco said. “Our guys are focused on the task at hand.”

Ole Miss has had a less than linear path to Coral Gables. The team went 7-11 in the month of April, following that with a better month of May, which included a seven-game win streak.

Offensively, Ole Miss finished 10th in the conference in batting average (.277) but third in slugging percentage (.493). The team’s power was generated largely by two players, Jacob Gonzalez and Tim Elko, who combined for two All-SEC team titles and 35 home runs, almost 40% of the team’s total of 91 home runs.

On the mound, the Rebels have a staff ERA of 4.68, just above the SEC average of 4.59. The team has struck out 551 hitters and walked 208, allowing 64 home runs, as well.

The fourth and final seeded Canisius Golden Griffins enter Coral Gables after winning their conference tournament.

The Griffins have some exceptional offensive talent, including sophomore Max Grant. In 52 starts, the infielder has a .404 batting average, leads the team in home runs (10), and his 52 RBI rank only behind teammate Mike Steffan (56). For his efforts, Grant earned the Player of the Year title from the MAAC.

On the pitching staff, the Griffins have relief pitcher and MAAC Rookie of the Year in Peyton Consigli. The freshman bullpen arm held opponents to only a .189 batting average.

“Any team can be dangerous. When you got a guy on the mound, one guy in our sport can change everything,” DiMare said.

Canisius has the best batting average in their conference (.296), and the team has reliably moved runners along, stealing 72 bases in 84 tries, also the top number of any team in the MAAC.

The first game of regionals play has been rescheduled to start at 10:00 a.m. on Friday and features Miami and Canisius.

“[Canisius has] two guys that are 20 plus stolen bases guys, they got a guy that’s hitting over 400, so they swing the bat a little bit,” DiMare said. “We need to execute what we are trying to do with our scouting reports.”

55 minutes after the game has concluded, Ole Miss and Arizona will compete.

On Saturday and Sunday, game times and team matchups have yet to be announced as they will be determined by the outcomes of Friday’s contests.

“I think we just have a big advantage. We’re used to this heat and humidity, it’s going to be tough on other teams,” Morales said. “We’ve been here practicing every day and getting used to this type of weather,”

If Miami can advance, it will host its first super regional since 2016, which was the last time the Hurricanes reached the College World Series, as well.