Bill Hass on the ACC: Miami Knows How to Win the NCAA Baseball Prize That Keeps Eluding ACC Teams
May 28, 2009
By Bill Hass
GREENSBORO, N.C. – Keep knocking on the door, get in, and then get hot.
That’s as good a formula as any for winning the NCAA baseball championship.
Seven teams from the ACC begin that quest Friday when they open play in Regionals across the country. North Carolina, Georgia Tech, Clemson and Florida State will host Regionals. The 16 winners that emerge from the Regionals will play in eight Super Regionals, with those survivors advancing to Johnny Rosenblatt Stadium in Omaha, Neb., for the College World Series.
A team from the ACC hasn’t won the title since Wake Forest did it in 1955. There have been close calls, most recently North Carolina’s back-to-back trips to the final series in 2006 and 2007.
But the championship has remained elusive for the last 53 years. There is, however, a team in the league that can boast of winning it all in the not so distant past. Miami took the title as an independent in 1999 and 2001 under current coach Jim Morris. And the Hurricanes won it two other times before that. They first played baseball in the ACC in 2005.
“Sometimes when you say the ACC hasn’t won a national championship it doesn’t click quite right with me,” Morris said. “I think we’re part of the ACC and we have won two – four, actually. I think in the next few years the ACC will win a national championship. It could even be this year.
“The secret is going out and knocking on the door and once you get (to Omaha), the top eight teams, it’s whoever gets hot when you’re out there. Everything has got to click. All eight teams going out there are good; all eight are hot because they just won a regional and a super regional.”
This is the 37th straight year Miami has made the NCAA baseball postseason, a record it keeps extending. The team with the next most is fellow ACC member Florida State at 32 straight years.
And in Morris’ previous 15 years, the ‘Canes have made the CWS a remarkable 11 times.
Getting there again won’t be easy. The Hurricanes (36-20) must hack their way through the Gainesville Regional in double-elimination play, then best another regional winner in a best-of-three Super Regional. It gets tougher every year, Morris said.
Getting to Omaha guarantees nothing. Last year Morris had what he felt might have been his best team ever, the No. 1 national seed and consensus top team in the country. Yet the Hurricanes couldn’t get the big hits at the right time and wound up a disappointing fifth.
Still, he believes experience is a big factor.
“Once you get to Omaha for the first time, it definitely helps you get back again,” Morris said. “On every team I’ve coached at Miami for 16 years, we’ve always had players who have been to the College World Series. So they understand what it takes to win a regional and a super regional and what’s going to happen when you walk into Omaha.
“It gets tougher and tougher every year to get there. But if you get there enough times, you’re going to win it, I think. That’s the bottom line. You’ve got to break that door down to get to Omaha, then take that next step.”
This year’s Miami team has been up and down – hot in the first half of the season, lukewarm in the second half. But the Hurricanes have no fear of anyone in the Gainesville Regional. They’ve wins against opening-round foe Jacksonville (36-20) and Bethune-Cookman (32-26). And they swept the Gators (39-20) in a three-game series in Gainesville earlier this season.
“It’s important to win the first two games,” Morris said of the double-elimination format. “If you win those, it absolutely puts you in the driver’s seat. You’ve got to structure your pitching accordingly to do that. If you lose that first game, you’ve got to have more pitching depth for sure.”
Although the Hurricanes have had a down year record-wise, the underdog role doesn’t really fit.
“I don’t really think so because of the tradition at Miami for the last 30 years,” Morris said. “(Opponents) look at Miami as a team that’s been there. I don’t think anybody overlooks us at all. I think people are normally ready Miami every time they play.”
Here’s a look at what faces the other six ACC teams in regional play.
NORTH CAROLINA: The Tar Heels (42-16) host Dartmouth (27-16) in the opening round of the Chapel Hill Regional. While the Ivy League champion isn’t considered a threat, Coastal Carolina (46-14) and Kansas (37-22) could provide tough opposition as the Tar Heels try to make it to Omaha for the fourth straight year.
If UNC emerges from its regional, its No. 4 national seed will virtually assure that it hosts a Super Regional against the Greenville Regional winner. Tough East Carolina (42-16) and South Carolina (38-21) are considered the favorites there.
GEORGIA TECH: The Yellow Jackets (35-17-1) begin the Atlanta Regional against Georgia State (39-20). The team to watch in this regional is Elon (40-16), which is capable of pulling an upset and winning it.
If the Jackets survive, they would move on to meet the Gainesville Regional winner. So it’s possible the Jackets and Hurricanes could meet in an All-ACC Super Regional.
CLEMSON: Playing in the Clemson Regional, the Tigers (40-19) open against Tennessee Tech (30-22-1). The toughest opponent should be Alabama (37-19), although the Tide has to deal with Oklahoma State (32-22), a team better than its record making the NCAA field after missing the Big 12 Tournament.
Should Clemson advance, the Tigers likely would hit the road to play Arizona State, which hosts the Tempe Regional. The Sun Devils (44-12) are the No. 5 overall seed and a strong favorite at home.
FLORIDA STATE: The Seminoles (42-16), who started the season slowly, have come around nicely and will host the Tallahassee Regional, opening against Marist (31-26). Georgia (37-22) will be a tough opponent and Ohio State (40-17) looks capable.
If FSU gets out of its back yard, it will likely play at Oklahoma. The Sooners (41-18) host the Norman Regional and are the No. 7 national seed.
VIRGINIA: For the second straight year (and the third time in five years), the Cavaliers (43-12-1) have been flung to a regional in California. Last year it was Fullerton; this time it’s the Irvine Regional, some 2,551 MapQuest miles from Charlottesville. That’s hosted by California-Irvine (43-13), the team ranked No. 1 in all three major college baseball polls, although the Anteaters only drew the No. 6 national seed. Also in the field is Fresno State (32-28), the defending NCAA champion.
On top of that, the ACC champion Cavs open against San Diego State (39-18) and its ace Stephen Strasburg (13-0, 1.24 ERA), considered college baseball’s top pitcher and the probable No. 1 draft pick next month.
“Virginia is as good as anybody in the (ACC),” Morris said, “but they got by far, in my opinion, the toughest draw (with) the regional they got put in.”
If Virginia can get out of Irvine, it probably deserves to host a Super Regional. More likely, the Cavs would travel again, against the winner of the Oxford Regional where Mississippi (40-17) is the favorite.
BOSTON COLLEGE: The Eagles (33-24), making the field for the first time since 1967, will have their work cut out for them. They’re in the Austin Regional, hosted by No. 1 national seed Texas (43-13-1). Boston College will open against Texas State (41-15).
Should BC pull off the monumental upset, it would move on to a Super Regional against the Fort Worth Regional winner. TCU (36-16) is the favorite but don’t count out Oregon State (35-16), which won back-to-back titles in 2006 & 2007 over North Carolina.
Bill Hass is a long-time observer of ACC sports. His career at the Greensboro News & Record spanned 36 years, from 1969 until his retirement in March, 2006. He is now writing "Bill Hass on the ACC" for theACC.com. His weekly columns will keep fans plugged in to the Atlantic Coast Conference.
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