Road to the College World Series: In Miami the Canes host a stacked Regional

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CORAL GABLES, Fla. – All season long, they have been a force at home.

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The Hurricanes have posted a 28-5 record at Mark Light Field. They’ve put together more than a few late-inning comebacks there and their fans, as always, have been a part of it all.

Now, as Miami turns its focus to the NCAA Tournament, it does so knowing its road to Omaha and the College World Series will, once again, start right at home in Coral Gables.

On Sunday night, hours after making their first appearance in the ACC Championship Game in 11 years, the Hurricanes learned that once again, they’d be hosting an NCAA Regional.

On Monday, they learned they’d face Maine in their Friday night regional opener, while Louisiana and Texas will face off on the other side of the regional bracket.

Needless to say, the Hurricanes are ready to get back on the field – especially after a successful run in Durham saw them notch three wins, including a 7-2 victory over Wake Forest, the nation’s top-ranked team who on Monday, was announced as the overall No. 1 seed in this year’s NCAA Tournament.

It’s a marked change from where the Hurricanes were a year ago when they entered the NCAA Tournament having lost three of their last four games before their regional opener.

Miami wound up winning that opener against Canisius – then dropped two games by a run each. The Hurricanes’ tournament run ended, their season ended and Mississippi – the team that won the last Coral Gables Regional – went on to win the College World Series.

None of Miami’s veterans have forgotten that feeling and while they’ve repeatedly said they aren’t dwelling on the past, the need to play better baseball in the postseason has been a point of emphasis throughout the month of May.

So far, that’s exactly what they’ve done.

“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,” said two-time All-ACC first-team selection and All-American closer Andrew Walters, who enters the regional tournament with a 1.08 ERA, 11 saves and 68 strikeouts in 41.2 innings pitched. “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 and [we’re] looking to just carry that on.”

Said Hurricanes head coach Gino DiMare, “It’s an exciting time of year. Proud of our guys, the way we’ve played down the stretch. Just heard [Walters] talking about how we’re going into the regional with probably a little different mindset, feeling as a team going into this regional than last year [when] we kind of limped into it a little bit. I think we’re playing some of our best baseball right now. I like where our team’s mindset is.”

Walters, undoubtedly, has been one of the reasons for Miami’s strong play of late.

The pitcher picked up a pair of saves in the ACC Baseball Championship and before that, notched late-game wins over Duke, North Carolina, FIU and Penn State in the regular season.

Miami’s offense has, of course, made a difference, too.

The Hurricanes (40-19) enter the regional tournament hitting .300 as a team with a combined 112 home runs and 418 RBI. Third baseman Yohandy Morales leads the way with a team-high .405 average, 61 RBI and 16 home runs.

Teammates CJ KayfusBlake Cyr and Zach Levenson are all hitting above .300 with double-digit home runs and have given opposing pitchers headaches all season long.

All of them will look to continue improving on those numbers when regional play begins.

“I was just trying to do what I could to help my team score some runs. The guys in front of me did their job and got on base for me. That’s what obviously helped me get my RBIs in,” said Morales, who had eight RBI, eight hits and two home runs during the ACC Baseball Championship. “So, I give props to them for getting on base for me and I was just seeing the ball well, doing what I can do to help the team win.”

Said Levenson, who enters the regional tournament with a .301 average, 43 RBI and 13 home runs of his late-season success at the plate, “I was just kind of sticking back [to] what I was doing at the beginning of the year, just trying to get better at-bats. My approach kind of got away from me a little bit in the middle of the year, so, just kind of getting back to what I do and that’s getting good at-bats every at-bat.”

And like many of their teammates, Levenson, Morales and Walters noted what an opportunity they have ahead of them to be able to start the NCAA Tournament at the place where they’re most comfortable: Mark Light Field.

That, they know, could be a significant advantage as they try to make a push to Omaha starting Friday night when they take on fourth-seeded Maine, which won the America East Conference title this past weekend.

“We’re here at home for a reason. We’ve played well at home this year,” DiMare said. “It certainly would benefit us to have a lot of people in here making a lot of noise for us and cheering for our Canes. 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 our goal.”

Said Levenson, “We love playing here. We love playing in front of our fans. We have a lot of confidence playing here and it’s always great playing here in our home dugout, too…It’s just the comfortableness of just everything here. It’s great being in Miami. It’s going to give us good energy.”