The forecast in Coral Gables, Florida calls for hot and humid temperatures with a mix of rain as the Miami Hurricanes are ready to host Texas, Louisiana and Maine in the regional round of the NCAA Tournament. Although the weather is comparable to one year ago, the Hurricanes are expecting anything but a repeat of last year’s first-round performance.
“Obviously, last season, we kind of had like a down slip going into the regional and we used that as motivation to flip the script,” All-ACC closer Andrew Walters said. “This season, we’re on the way up and we’re playing some of our best baseball going into this regional. So, it’s a different feeling for sure.”
Miami’s 2022 season ended with an unexpected one-two knockout. A one-run loss to eventual champion Ole Miss created a second Hurricanes game on the same day, a matchup Miami lost 4-3 against Arizona.
Fueled by recent wins against No. 1 Wake Forest, NC State and Duke in the ACC Championship, the ‘Canes will deal with No. 2 seed Texas, No. 3 seed Louisiana and No. 4 seed Maine.
“We’re here at home for a reason. We’ve played well at home this year,” Miami head coach Gino DiMare said, referring to UM’s 28-5 home record. “Our players have worked hard and hopefully, the fans will come out here and support them … We’re trying to get to Omaha. That’s always the goal.
From the Big 12, the Longhorns won the Big 12 regular season title, finishing 38-18, with a 15-9 record in conference play. A No. 1 seed in the Big 12 tournament, Texas had an early exit in its conference championship, losing to Kansas and Kansas State at Globe Life Field last week.
“So many times, we’ve went 0-2 and come home, rest, kind of regroup and play tremendously in our region and advance to Omaha,” Texas head coach David Pierce said. “There’s different routes on how to get there.”
The Longhorns are hardly an easy out, however, as the team plays five hitters who have hit at least 10 home runs this season. Led in longballs by outfielder Eric Kennedy (16), Texas’ unit ranks in the top three in its conference in home runs (85), batting average (.297) and slugging percentage (.504).
“It’s always fun, you know, playing when it’s win or go home,” Texas’ Dylan Campbell said, the Longhorns right fielder who is playing with a record 35-game hit streak. “I think that always brings the best out of me and I think it’ll bring the best out of the teammates as well.”
On the mound, Texas’ pitching staff ERA of 4.13 leads the Big 12. Starters Lucas Gordon and Lebarron Johnson Jr. have ERAs under 3.00, and the duo have a combined 176 strikeouts on the year.
Louisiana’s crazed mascot is symbolic of the way it can run the bases. With 161 stolen bags, well over two a game, the Rajin Cajuns are ranked third in the nation in stolen bases.
“I’ve been in the Miami regional before in 2010. It’s different than anything that you could draw up in your head or that you’ve been to,” Louisiana head coach Matt Deggs said. “It will be a test of resilience. It’s a hitter friendly ballpark that they know how to play very, very well in. It’s a great atmosphere, we’re just honored to get to make that trip.”
Two hitters stand out above the rest for Louisiana. Catcher Julian Brock is a top prospect at the catcher position, and along with shortstop Kyle DeBarge, the pair both made the All-Sun Belt Second Team.
A junior, Brock’s 63 RBI led the team. while DeBarge’s .370 batting average was the best of any member on the Ragin Cajuns.
With a win in the America East Tournament, Maine is in the tournament for the first time since 2011. The Black Bears have not made the College World Series since 1986, but they will attempt to return as a top two team in the America East conference in batting average (.293), ERA (5.77) and fielding percentage (.971).
“We think we have the team to really make some noise in the regional,” Maine senior Connor Goodman said. “We’re not done. I really think we can do some good things in the regional and shock some people.”
A first baseman, 6-foot-4 Jeremiah Jenkins has been the most dangerous in the Black Bears’ lineup. Jenkins leads the conference in batting average (.378), OPS (.1277), home runs (20) and RBI (75). Behind Jenkins, junior infielder Quinn McDaniel is a .355 hitter, scoring a team-high 76 runs with 32 stolen bases.
“What they did this season is really bonkers, video game-type stuff,” Maine head coach Nick Derba said when speaking of McDaniel and Jenkins.
Texas and Louisiana will start the Coral Gables Regional with a matchup at 1:00 p.m. on Friday. After, top seed Miami will face bottom seed Maine at 7:00 p.m. Both games will be held at Mark Light Field.