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Canes Set Sights on Omaha

Canes Set Sights on Omaha

by Christy Cabrera Chirinos

CORAL GABLES, Fla. – None of them want to dwell on the past. It’s the past for a reason.

That doesn’t mean, though, the Hurricanes aren’t motivated by how last year ended.

Miami, the sixth overall seed in the 2022 NCAA Tournament, saw its season end not in Omaha, but on its own home field in the regional tournament. Meanwhile, third-seeded Ole Miss the last team selected for the tournament – not only won the Coral Gables Regional, but went on to win the national title in Omaha.

For the Rebels, it was a postseason run to cherish. For the Hurricanes, it became motivation.

“Getting left on our home field hosting a regional last year, that’s about as sour a taste [as] I think we can get, especially after how well we did at the beginning of the year,” said redshirt sophomore pitcher Alejandro Torres. “But what happened last year is already past us and we’re set on this year. We’re ready to knock [down] the door to Omaha.”

Added junior outfielder Zach Levenson, “We’re coming back hungry. Nobody liked the way last year ended…It just fueled our fire for this year.”

And in both Coral Gables and beyond, expectations are that the Hurricanes – picked to win the ACC’s Coastal Division this season – have the pieces to make a run to Omaha and the College World Series.

While Miami will have to adjust after losing ace Carson Palmquist, fellow starting pitcher Jake Garland and hitters Jacob Burke and Maxwell Romero Jr., the Hurricanes return hard-hitting star infielder Yohandy Morales, who hit .329 and had a team-high 18 home runs and 59 RBI last season.

Also back is fellow infielder CJ Kayfus, whose .366 average led the Hurricanes last season and helped him earn team MVP honors, pitcher Gage Ziehl and All-American closer Andrew Walters, whose dominant 1.65 ERA, 14 saves and 62 strikeouts made him an NCBWA Stopper of the Year finalist last season.

All of that – plus some key additions from both the transfer portal and the high school ranks – have head coach Gino DiMare eager to see how the Hurricanes handle not just their opening series against Penn State this weekend, but the entirety of the season ahead.

“We’ve got some guys in the middle of the lineup that can hit for power. We’ve got some guys throughout the lineup that can run a little bit,” DiMare said. “I’d like for the identity of our team to be that our starting rotation sets the tone for this team, that can go deep in games, [go] six, seven innings and turn it over to our bullpen, which we feel good about. And we have, arguably, the best closer in the country.”

While DiMare has yet to announce the Hurricanes’ full starting rotation, he did say Ziehl – who had a 4.04 ERA and notched 52 strikeouts as a reliever last season – will start Miami’s opener against the Nittany Lions.

And for his part, the pitcher says that’s a responsibility he doesn’t take lightly.

“To be a Friday night guy for a program like this it means a lot,” Ziehl said. “You have to treat every game like it’s the last, so regardless of who we’re playing, you can’t take them lightly.”

Offensively, Kayfus and Morales are expected to be among Miami’s leaders, but they’ll likely get plenty of help from Levenson (.300 BA, 7 HR and 28 RBI in 2022), junior infielder Dominic Pitelli (.249 BA, 8 HR, 45 RBI), and sophomore outfielder Edgardo Villegas (.262 BA, 30 RBI, 37 runs).

The Hurricanes, who went 40-20 last season and posted a 20-10 mark in ACC play, also added several key transfers to the roster, including outfielder Ian Farrow from Florida Gulf Coast and veteran outfielder Dario Gomez from Nevada.

Farrow, a junior, had a record-setting season for FGCU last season, totaling a program-high 21 home runs and 75 RBI while hitting .322. Gomez, meanwhile, hit for the cycle last season with Nevada in a game against UNLV. He batted .316, had seven home runs, totaled 51 RBI and had a team-high six triples.

Both have already made an impression on their new coaches and teammates and have the potential to be impact players this year, with DiMare making note of Farrow’s record-breaking season in the weeks leading up to Friday’s opener.

DiMare had similar praise for Gomez, a fifth-year player.

“He’s hit at a high level at the D-1 level and been successful. He’s a tough guy to pitch to,” DiMare said of Gomez. “He’s going to, hopefully, be a guy that goes deep into counts, a guy that gets on base…he can run. He’s excellent in the outfield…He’s thrown a number of guys out in a short period of time, which is great.”

But even with all of the talent on the roster, DiMare and his players know the challenges they’ll face as they work to try and make their way back to Omaha.

The ACC remains competitive and the Hurricanes will face off against the likes of Florida State, Georgia Tech, Louisville, North Carolina, Virginia, Virginia Tech and Wake Forest, all of whom advanced to the NCAA Tournament.

Miami will also take on in-state rivals Florida, FAU, FIU and Stetson in non-conference play.

All of those foes, DiMare hopes, will help prepare the Hurricanes – physically and mentally – for a deep postseason run.

“Obviously,  high expectations for the team. Last year was disappointing. We had a great opportunity right here in our own ballpark, hosting as a national seed and we came up short,” DiMare said. “We’ve got a lot of guys back from that team that I know are hungry and hopefully, that experience will get us over the hump and get us back to Omaha.”