Baseball tournament time at UM: Canes vs. Seawolves at 7 p.m. Friday and UCF vs, Missouri State at 2 p.m. Will Peter O'Brien be healthy enough to play?
I just did the math. The Hurricanes have indeed been an amazing baseball program. They have won 23 consecutive regionals and five consecutive super regionals at Mark Light Field in Coral Gables.
Will the streak continue?
It for sure will become a lot harder if usual catcher Peter O'Brien does not play this weekend. Hard for me to believe that will happen, but UM coach Jim Morris told us at a press conference today that O'Brien (.338 batting average, 10 home runs, 39 RBI, .633 slugging percentage in 39 games) is questionable for the regional because of wrist pain.
O'Brien missed the last 17 regular-season games and the first game of the Atlantic Coast Conference tournament with a broken left wrist.
Here's what Morris told us Thursday:
"First of all he’s done everything he possibly can do to get ready to play. He wasn’t able to [hit] yesterday so that’s not a good thing. We didn’t practice Monday. Tuesday we didn’t hit because we got rained out before we started our bp. Wednesday -- yesterday -- he couldn’t hit , so that’s not a good sign. I don’t know where he’s at."
Morris told us just before noon Thursday that O'Brien had texted him Wednesday night to say he felt better, and that he would try to take some swings Thursday. The team had gone out to local batting cages because tarp covered Mark Light Field and no team could practice there. O'Brien was scheduled to see the team doctor Thursday afternoon.
"There's nothing that he can’t do that will hurt him physically other than being able to deal with the pain. He’s having trouble rotating his wrist when he follows through, so it’s creating pain -- and he’s having to let go of the bat.
"It’s just a question of how much pain he can tolerate and how he feels. Hitting is a thing where you need to feel good, because it’s the hardest thing to do in any sport. I don’t know. I’m hoping when I wake up and come to the ballpark tomorrow he can play.
"He swung the bat better last week in the ACC tournnaent on the first day than he did the second and third days."
Morris was asked: "Is this a situation where if it was midseason he might not play?" He answered, "For sure. Of course, he may not. But it’s do or die now. If he can play we want him in the lineup. He’s a force when he’s healthy. We all know that.
He’ll either be at first base or DH, one of the two. It actually bothered him a little bit catching ground balls yesterday, which I was very surprised when he told me that. If that bothers him then he will not play first base I assure you. Because the No. 1 thing we need is his bat in the lineup.''
As for the pitching situation, Morris made an unusual move by announcing he'll start Friday-night lefty Eric Erickson (8-5, 2.84), instead of expected starter Steven Ewing, who has pitched Sunday games until his recent switch to Saturday nights. No one can recall Morris throwing a Friday-night guy against a No. 4 regional seed. He basically said the matchup with Erickson was better, without elaborating. He didn't specify who will pitch Saturday.
You might know by now that America East team Stony Brook of New York has the top winning percentage (.807) in Division I. You also might not know that as of Thursday at noon, UM still had not gotten any tape on the Seawolves. Morris said he had hoped to at least watch them in batting practice, but tarp on the field prevented that, and all four teams had to take bp at local batting cages.
Stony Brook doesn't play competition near the caliber of the teams in the ACC, but they have some fine players nonetheless, and I'd say they'll have that much more of a chance if Peter O'Brien isn't in the lineup.
Some facts about Stony Brook: they've won their last 22 of 23 games. They've been to four regionals since 2004. Their center fielder, Travis Jankowski, is excellent. He's hitting .411, eighth best in the nation, and was the Cape Cod summer league's most valuable player last summer. He hit .600 during the recent America East conference tourney. He's also super fast.
Right-handed senior ace Tyler Johnson (9-1, 1.78) will start Friday for the Seawolves.
Third baseman Willie Carmona is batting .380 with a conference-leading 10 home runs and 60 RBI; and Maxx Tissenbaum is batting .400 and leads the nation in fewest strikeouts, with four Ks in 200 at-bats.
P.S. The forecast calls for rain Friday and Saturday, and possibly Sunday. Hope for sunshine!
A Missouri State note: Sophomore Nick Petree (RHP, Clinton, Mo.) has been named the The Louisville Slugger NCAA Division I National Player of The Year, released Thursday as part of Collegiate Baseball newspaper's annual All-America Team announcement. Petree has the lowest ERA of starting pitchers in the nation at 0.92 over 15 appearances (107 1/3 innings) with 109 strikeouts and 34 walks.
SUSAN MILLER DEGNAN