The Miami Hurricanes have had an outstanding season to this point. After winning 44 games and a 2nd consecutive ACC Coastal Division championship, the Canes were awarded the #5 overall seed in the NCAA tournament. That means the Canes will host the Coral Gables Regional, and would also host Super Regionals, should they advance. Let's take a quick look at how the Canes got here
Richard Lewis/ Miami Athletics
#1 seed Miami Hurricanes (44-14)
The Hurricanes enter Regionals as one of the top teams in all of College Baseball. With 44 wins already to their credit, this is a team that is loaded with talent from top to bottom.
8 Hurricanes players were named to all-ACC teams, led by Golden Spikes semi-finalist David Thompson, who enters regionals as the National leader in HR (19, tied for 1st) and RBI (80). Other 1st team All-ACC Hurricanes are IF George Iskenderian (.379 avg, 50 RBI, 23-25 SB) and C/DH Zach Collins (.311 avg, 15 HR, 65 RBI).
While most teams would be lucky to have any one of those players on their roster, the offensive talent extends much further. 5 other Hurricanes have batting averages over .300, and a 6th, RF Willie Abreu, checks in at .294.
The Canes are one of the top offensive teams in the Nation, averaging 8.4 runs per game, good for 2nd best nationally. Miami bangs out 11.2 hits/gm, they're 5th in team batting average (.315), 1st in on-base percentage (.424), and 2nd in total walks drawn (331, 5.7BB/gm). No matter how you slice it, this is a powerful offensive team.
What has made Miami even more dominant has been their strong pitching staff. Led by 2nd team All-ACC starter Thomas Woodrey (6-2, 2.72 ERA, .234 BA against, 1.04 WHIP) and former 2nd round draft pick Andy Suarez (7-1, 3.09 ERA, .255 BA against), the Canes have plenty of talented arms on the pitching staff.
Co-3rd starters Enrique Sosa and Danny Garcia have been solid all year behind the top 2, with Sosa sporting a 7-3 record, and Garcia at 6-1.
Much like the starting staff, the bullpen has been outstanding all year long. Workhorses Cooper Hammond (5-1, 1.78 ERA, 31 appearances) and Michael Mediavilla (3-2, 2.18 ERA, 31 appearances) have been an effective middle inning bridge to one of the nation's best closers, Bryan Garcia (5-2, 2.94 ERA, .219 BA against, 9 saves).
When you combine the offense and pitching (and defense, which has been more solid this year than in recent years), it's easy to see why this team has won 44 games to this point. When you consider that the Canes are 31-4 in games played at Alex Rodriguez Park at Mark Light Field this year, it's easy to understand why the expectation is that this team will earn it's way to Omaha for the College World Series.
Joining the Canes are 3 teams who look to ruin Miami's season. Let's meet them:
#2 seed East Carolina Pirates (40-20)
The Pirates are a team who has had intermittent postseason experience, last having appeared in Regionals in 2011. With a new coach and a renewed passion, the Pirates look to advance to the Super Regionals for the first time since 2009.
The Pirates played a good non-conference schedule, but only went 2-4 vs. ACC in 2015. To advance out of the Coral Gables regional, they will have to find a way to better that record of performance.
That may be possible, however, because ECU is one of the hottest teams in America right now. They've won 8 straight games (including the AAC tournament), and are winners of 11 of their last 13 heading into Regionals
For the Pirates, SS Hunter Allen (.353 avg) and C/1B Luke Lowery (.313, 19 HR, 49 RBI) lead the offense. 3 other players are hitting .300 or better, including 2-way standout Reid Love. Love, a semi-finalist for the John Olerud award as the best 2-way player in America, can hurt you with his bat (.300avg, 10 extra base hits, 20 RBI) and shut you down with his arm (7-3, 2.84 ERA).
But, when you talk about East Carolina pitching, no conversation is complete without mentioning star closer Joe Ingle. His 0.88 ERA, 8 saves, .140 average against, and 12.03 K/9 would be impressive for anybody, but are all the more striking when you consider that Ingle is only a freshman.
ECU is a talented team, and worthy of their #2 seed in this regional. If they stay hot, they could earn their way to the Super Regionals after this weekend.
#3 seed Columbia Lions (31-15)
The Lions are becoming the dominant progam in the Ivy League. They are 3 time consecutive Ivy League champions. For a team that had 20 consecutive losing seasons from 1990-2009, that is no small feat. Columbia is making their 2nd consecutive appearance in the Coral Gables Regional. They lost to Texas Tech and Bethune Cookman in this Regional last year.
The Lions have not only dominated the Ivy League, finishing with a 16-4 mark in conference, but they also be beat NCAA teams Houston and St. John's in their non-conference schedule. That experience against quality teams could pay dividends this weekend.
As for the team, Columbia is led by Co-Ivy League player of the year Gus Craig, who enters regionals hitting .331 with 26 extra base hits and 35 RBIs. Craig is a power bat who can change the game at any time.
The other top hitter for the Lions is Joe Falcone, a 29 year-old son of a former MLB pitcher who spent several years and 3 tours of duty in Iraq and Afghanistan as a Medic in the Marines. Falcone is an offensive beast for Columbia, entering Regionals hitting .347 with 32 extra base hits, including 11 HR, and 52 RBI.
Columbia has a balanced pitching staff, headed by Kevin Roy (6-3, 2.66 ERA) and George Thanopoulos (5-5, 3.65 ERA, 61 K). The bullpen is truly a "by-committee" group, with several players having earned saves over the course of the 2015 season. 6 bullpen pitchers have appeared in 11 games or more, so any of them could be called on during Regionals, should the situation arise.
#4 seed FIU Panthers (29-29)
Once a treasured and hotly contested local rivalry spanning decades (1973-2008), Miami and FIU have not played each other 6 years. That will come to an end on Friday after noon when the 4-seed Panthers take on the 1-seed Hurricanes to open the Coral Gables Regional.
FIU is coached by Turtle Thomas, a long time UM assistant coach who was fired by Jim Morris in 1999. After bouncing around from LSU and Arizona State as an assistant, Thomas took the head job at FIU in the spring of 2007. His first season coaching the Panthers, 2008, was the last time that Miami and FIU faced off. Thomas got some sweet revenge on his former employer as his Panthers beat the #1 ranked Hurricanes 6-3.
The Hurricanes hold a dominating 91-24 all-time series lead over the Panthers, but FIU won the first and last meeting between the two schools. With the campuses of these universities a mere 9 miles apart, there will be a heavy local sabor to Friday's game.
On the field, FIU has struggled this season, finishing with a 29-29 record. Any struggle they had through the regular season disappeared in the Conference USA tournament, however. The Panthers powered their way through the conference tournament outscoring their opponents 44-15. That explosion through the conference tournament earned FIU the postseason bid they otherwise would not have had.
On offense, the Panthers are led by OF Brian Portelli (.351 avg, 26 XBH, 46 RBI) and 1B Edwin Rios (.314 avg, 18 HR, 56 RBI). Apart from those 2 middle of the lineup guys, SS Julius Gaines (68 hits) and C Zach Soria (60 hits) contribute to the Panther offensive attack.
As for pitching, FIU is led by Chris Mourelle (7-7. 3.30 ERA, .254 avg allowed) and Andres Nunez (6-5, 3.75 ERA, .246 avg allowed). The bullpen features Williams Durruthy (2-1, 2.31 ERA, 25 appearances, 1.56 WHIP, 10.61 K/9) and closer Danny Dopico (2-4, 2.11 ERA, 25 appearances, 1.22 WHIP, 11.18 K/9)
For the uninitiated, Regionals in the NCAA baseball tournament are double elimination. The last team standing once all others have been doubly eliminated advances to the Super Regionals. The schedule for the Coral Gables Regional is right here:
So, the winner of Columbia-East Carolina plays the winner of FIU-Miami with a chance to advance to the championship level of Regionals.
Likewise, the loser of Columbia-East Carolina plays the loser of FIU-Miami in an elimination game.
With all that being said, Miami has to be considered the prohibitive favorite to win the Coral Gables Regional.
LATE EDIT: I joined Eric Lopez of Sportstalkflorida.com to preview the Coral Gables Regional. You can listen to that segment, as well as one with Kendall Rogers of D1baseball.com, RIGHT HERE
The Coral Gables Regional features 4 good teams and even more good storylines. Be sure you make your way to Mark Light Field (or watch on ESPN3 if you're not local) to see all the action starting Friday at 1pm.