Nothing wrong with a little pregame lightheartedness if one is delivering and taking care of business—which the Miami Hurricanes failed to do on Sunday night, one game away from punching their ticket to a Super Regional at home next weekend.
The above picture of Christopher Barr and David Thompson pretty much embodied what all supporters of the orange and green were feeling when Columbia topped Florida International mid-afternoon, setting up the Lions’ third game in a 24-hour span.
Instead it was the Ivy Leaguers getting the last laugh—a combination of good pitching, as well as inconsistency and poor decision-making by Miami’s veteran offense, held to two hits on the night and hitless the game’s final five innings.
The Hurricanes were shutout for the first time this year—3-0, by way of the Lions chipping away at the stone all night—and now a national seed that won 16 of their past 17 coming into tonight, is now one loss away from a would-be dream season ending prematurely.
Miami’s back-to-back regional wins came by way of fast starts and a lot of early scoring, taking the focus away from the offense fading in the mid-to-late innings—a complete contrast to the ACC Tournament, where late-game rallies against Notre Dame and Virginia were difference-makers.
The Canes jumped to a 6-0 lead on Friday night, holding on to top Florida International, 6-2. On Saturday night a four-run second inning set the tone against Columbia. The Canes led 6-3 after four, tacking on some insurance runs late in the 8-3 victory.
Without building an early cushion Sunday evening, Miami committed the fatal mistake of letting a team hang around too long, giving them the confidence that they belong—and maybe they do; Columbia now 6-0 in elimination games in recent weeks.
This weekend alone the Lions knocked off second-seeded East Carolina in the opener and staved off elimination twice on Sunday; saving the best for last by dominating the host team.
As Columbia rolled, Miami began to fold; noticeably losing confidence in its abilities as the night rolled on—chasing pitches, lifeless at times and unraveling when it usually steps up.
Elimination games are nothing to UM as a program. Some of the best Miami teams in history fought off backs-to-the-wall moments.
Two decades ago, a spirited 1995 home regional that saw Miami in a similar situation as tonight—one game away from advancing, before getting dropped, 4-0 by two-seed Texas A&M. A day later, the Canes rolled, 5-2 and earned a trip to Omaha in the pre-Super Regional era of college baseball.
The following year the Canes fought out of the loser’s bracket in Austin, falling to Sam Houston State in the opener, but winning four-in-a-row to advance, topping UCLA, 8-4 in the finals.
Still, both pale in comparison to the run Miami made at home in 1997, falling to Arizona State in the third round, beating Florida, 6-5 in the semis and then taking out the Sun Devils in thrilling back-to-back games—7-6 and 6-5—punching a ticket to Omaha.
The upside for the Hurricanes tonight; head coach Jim Morris was at the wheel for all those season- and program-defining moments. The downside; he’s also been the captain the past seven seasons—including the faceplant in Omaha in 2008 and some embarrassing regional failures over the past few seasons.
While two-decade old folklore is safe and comfortable when trying to convince oneself that Miami should rebound in spirited fashion in front of a packed house on Monday night, the past few years provide a more honest blueprint in how the Hurricanes have fared in the postseason.
A one-seed at home last year, Miami opened with a 1-0 win over Bethune-Cookman and fell to Texas Tech, 3-0—one run in two games. The Canes fought out of the loser’s bracket with a strong 10-0 outing against the Wildcats and topped the Red Raiders on Sunday night, 2-1—but when Monday rolled around, the bats were silenced, Miami fell, 4-0 and another season ended with a thud.
Two years prior, another one-seed opportunity blown at home, getting schooled by a combine score of 22-4 by the likes of Stony Brook and Missouri State.
When Monday rolls around, Miami simply must re-find its groove and remember who the hell it is—a team dominating at the end of the regular season, while learning some harsh post-season lessons.
Prior to tonight’s loss, missed opportunities cost the Hurricanes a shot at the Seminoles in the ACC title game, but an extra innings game two loss to North Carolina State ended that bid. Miami came out a day later and rallied in the bottom of the ninth to top Notre Dame, but still paid a price for not taking care of the Wolfpack.
Fast forward a week and it’s deja vu all over again; Miami in control of its destiny, but unable to deliver the kill shot, giving new live to an opponent who was on the ropes and ready to be put away.
Credit to Columbia for the spirit, determination and comeback spirit shown thus far, but had the Hurricanes played their game on Sunday night, no one is having this conversation.
One of the most-potent offenses in the nation did itself in this weekend more than underdogs have imposed their will. Columbia’s Bryce Barr—a freshman making his first start since April 22nd—held a Miami offense entering the regionals hitting .315 to a pair of measly hits?
Lions hitters finally got to Hurricanes’ starter, junior Enrique Sosa—the right-hander striking out seven on the night before getting yanked in the fifth—but Miami bats couldn’t rattle Barr in such a big-stage moment; his clubhouse on fumes? Inconceivable.
This current Hurricanes squad lived through last season’s disappointment and missed opportunities—a rallying cry and an understandable, “Omaha or bust” approach to this year; which will be tested at Mark Light Field on Monday night in the ultimate high-pressure game in recent memory.
As for Morris, he’s been here before and found the ultimate success, while also failing miserably at times this past half decade. How does the two-time national champion and coaching veteran tap into proper motivation and make all the right calls with so much on the line this time around?
We’ll know the answer to that a mere 24 hours from now.
Until Miami gets back to Omaha, the pressure will continue to mount—as it did those final few innings against Columbia on Sunday night … and if this nationally-seeded team can’t survive a feisty Ivy League squad at home, it has no chance in the Supers or Omaha, for that matter.
Monday night in Miami is a dress rehearsal in comparison to what’s coming down the pike with a win.
To bounce back, the Canes need to find that balance between all business or too loose, frustration and determination or belief versus overconfidence. Tap into that place one more time this long weekend and Miami will deliver as it has so many time this season.
Fail and the disappointment will be absolutely immeasurable.