CORAL GABLES, Fla. — When the regional field was announced on Monday, many of the national experts commented on how easy the Coral Gables Regional is, and already started looking toward a Miami-Florida Super Regional.
That wasn’t lost on Texas Tech.
“Definitely,” designated hitter Adam Kirsch said on Thursday. “That’s definitely in the back of our minds. We have something that we want to prove to everybody else.”
While the outside pundits might be ready to crown Miami the regional winner, the Hurricanes know it won’t be that easy.
“I think it’s good for everybody to host,” Miami coach Jim Morris said. “But with that said, our own road winning percentage is better than at home, so it’s not like it’s a given. I like that about our club, that they can play at home or on the road. I don’t think our ballpark is a huge advantage. It’s a fair ballpark.”
Tech isn’t the only one that has confidence in this regional.
No. 4 seed Bethune-Cookman split a pair of midweek non-conference games with Miami, both at Mark Light Field. The Wildcats won 7-3 on March 11 but dropped a 10-1 decision in early April. Wildcats coach Jason Beverlin said the Wildcats will not lack confidence against the Hurricanes or anyone else in the field, especially with ace Montana Durapau (11-1, 1.71 ERA) on the mound.
“Eighteen- to 22-year-old kids are going to be nervous in this environment,” Beverlin said. “And by nervous, I mean excited and some anxiety. But I think it all boils down to us executing and playing our best baseball and focusing on what we do well and not making mistakes.”
Columbia starter out
No. 3 seed Columbia (29-18) was hit with bad news before it even left New York City for the Coral Gables Regional.
Ace left-hander David Speer, who was expected to start today’s 1 p.m. regional opener against Texas Tech (40-18), had his appendix removed on Monday and will not pitch this weekend.
Speer, who played with Tech right-hander Dominic Moreno for the Chatham A’s in the Cape Cod League this past summer, a team coached by Tech volunteer assistant coach Matt Gardner, was 7-2 with a 1.86 ERA and 75 strikeouts in 87 innings this season.
“It’s definitely going to affect us,” Columbia coach Brett Boretti said. “When you lose your number one guys, it’s an unfortunate situation. But it’s an opportunity at the same time for somebody else to step in.”
That somebody for today will be sophomore right-hander George Thanopoulos, who is 5-2 with a 2.81 ERA and 40 strikeouts in 48 innings pitched. Thanopoulos has started just six games among his 14 starts and has three saves. But he also leads the team with 14 hit batters.
“He’s got some life on his fastball, good slider,” Boretti said. “He does a good job attacking the zone. He’s a pretty polished pitcher, and I think he’ll be ready to go. We’re looking forward to it.”
Even though it hadn’t reached noon yet when Texas Tech began its scheduled practice on Thursday, it was already warm and muggy at Mark Light Field.
For Tech’s Adam Kirsch, who played his junior season at nearby Florida International in 2012, it was beautiful.
“I’m happy to be back,” said Kirsch, a native of the Houston suburb of Spring. “One of the things I’ve missed the most kind of is the humidity. It feels good to me, so I like it.”
Kirsch isn’t the only one with Florida ties. Sophomore outfielder Tyler Neslony played this past summer for the Leesburg Lightning, which he said is about an hour north of the Miami area.
“I’ve played some here, so I know the atmosphere and the humidity. It will be hot, of course,” Neslony said. “It helps to play in the same state, of course, more or less the same area. Every little thing helps and makes it feel more normal.”
As a team, Tech has at least a little experience with the weather, having played in tournament action at Central Florida and then two midweek games at Florida International during the 2013 season.
Through the first half of the 2014 season, the Red Raiders were almost notorious for getting off to slow starts on the weekend.
The Red Raiders scored three runs or fewer in their first eight series openers, all the way through the first game of the Oklahoma State series. Over the next five series, however, the Red Raiders scored four or more runs four times, and was 4-1 in that stretch.
Then, the Red Raiders opened the Big 12 Championships with an 8-3 loss to Texas at a time when they were playing for a good showing in hopes of possibly hosting a regional.
Now, a slow start could put the Red Raiders one more loss from their season coming to a permanent end.
“I think we’ve shown we can play wherever we go play,” Tech coach Tim Tadlock said. “Simply, the mound is still 60 feet, 6 inches and the bases are still the same.”
Last year at this time, Miami’s Jim Morris had no idea what was going on with his team.
The veteran Hurricanes coach developed pneumonia during the 2013 Atlantic Coast Conference and was hospitalized. He missed not only the rest of the ACC tournament, but the Hurricanes’ NCAA postseason as well.
But he’s feeling much better now. He just can’t remember it.
“It was one of those deals where I didn’t realize I was sick as I was,” Morris said. “Going into the hospital, they took me off the bus still in uniform. The next thing I know, the players are home and the tournament is over with. ACC and NCAA are over with the next time I see them. But I feel great and ready to go.”
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