UM baseball has a strong chance of getting back to Omaha for the first time since 2008.
Thanks to senior transfer Peter O'Brien and an impressive starting pitching staff, the Canes seem stronger than they've been in a few years.
There's no reason the Canes shouldn't win big tonight and this weekend at home against UAlbany, which is way up there in New York and as of a few minutes ago, was 35 degrees (feels like 29), with snow and rain forecast for today. Additionally, this is the Great Danes' season opener. They have gotten into the title game of the America East Conference championship the past three seasons. But here's a more accurate assessment: 21-31 last year.
UM ace Eric Erickson (1-0, 0.00 ERA) is pitching tonight at 7 at Mark Light Field (Alex Rodriguez Park).
As for catcher O'Brien, he has eight hits in his last nine at-bats and is leading the Canes with a .579 batting average and 1.000 slugging percentage.
"I try not to get too much into the stats and stuff like that,'' O'Brien told me yesterday. "I go out there, play 100 percent and whatever happens, happens. I Kind of just see the ball, hit the ball."
O'Brien, 6-4 and 226 pounds (he said he was proud of the extra pound, but admitted he wasn't the 6-5 listed on the roster), played at Bethune-Cookman last season and opted not to play pro ball this season after being drafted in the third round by the Colorado Rockies -- a huge gift for UM.
"It’s amazing,'' O'Brien said. "I love being out here with all the guys. I’m proud to rep the University of Miami and I hope to continue to do so in the same fashion.''
However, the Canes need to get the bats consistently going, and Rony Rodriguez needs to connect, which hitting coach Gino DiMare and coach Jim Morris believe will happen if he stops trying to do too much, relaxes and just goes with the pitch instead of trying to pull everything.
Also, a couple injuries have already struck. Redshirt freshman center fielder Julian Santos, the talented speedster who endured two reconstructive knee surgeries (one on each leg) before starting out this season fresh, has a pulled hamstring he sustained in the opener. Jim Morris said last week that he hoped he'd be back for tonight's home-series opener against Albany, but hamstrings usually take longer than that to heal. We'll see.
Closer E.J. Encinosa, a 6-5, 242-pound junior who regularly reaches 95 mph, hurt himself during his last appearance Wednesday at Ft. Myers. Don't know the extent of that either, but wondering if it's a groin or sports hernia or some type of stomach thing. Will let you know on that one when I find out.
Reminder: Sunday's home-series finale is at 11:30, NOT 1 p.m. because of Albany's travel plans being changed.
SUSAN MILLER DEGNAN