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Canes Set to Open Season

Canes Set to Open Season

by Christy Cabrera Chirinos

CORAL GABLES, Fla. – Much of the work of preparing for the season was behind him.

He’d put together a coaching staff he believed could help his team win. He’d met his new players and assessed their skills during intrasquad scrimmages and fall ball. The offseason conditioning program was finished, and preseason practices had, in essence, been wrapped up.

All that remained before the season opener was Miami’s annual Alumni Game, a chance for the current Hurricanes to showcase their skills and get in a dress rehearsal of sorts against some of the players who’d worn orange and green before them.

It was then that J.D. Arteaga found himself facing a challenge: putting together his first lineup.

“I wrote out my first real lineup [for the] Alumni Game on Saturday and that was not an easy task,” said Arteaga, the Hurricanes’ first-year head coach. “I think I wrote six or seven and kept tearing them out and throwing them out and starting over. I’m just excited to be in this role and really represent and lead the program that I’ve loved being a part of my whole life. It’s an exciting time for me …

“Trying to figure out the right nine guys, the positions, the batting order, things like that. It’s not getting any easier. There’s a lot of parity up and down our roster. Anybody can play at any time. The spirit of competition is special. It pushes guys to be better and there is a lot of competition within this roster. Anybody can play.”

The lineup Arteaga eventually settled on worked out just fine.

The Hurricanes notched a 6-1 win over an alumni squad that featured several familiar faces including former Major League Baseball veterans Alex Cora and Jon Jay, Philadelphia Phillies coach Paco Figueroa and Washington Nationals prospect Yohandy Morales, who starred in Coral Gables last season before being selected by the Nationals in the second round of July’s First-Year Player Draft.

Now, Arteaga and his staff will be tasked with putting together a series of lineups for games that will count, starting with Friday’s season opener against the New Jersey Institute of Technology.

The former longtime Hurricanes pitching coach – and Miami ace whose name still dots the record book – said this week he doesn’t expect building the challenge of building those lineups to get any easier, especially as some of the younger players on Miami’s roster begin gaining invaluable experience and contribute in the ways they’re expected.

“I’m excited about the team. I’m excited about the options this roster gives us. A lot of guys, a lot of moving parts, a lot of guys that can play different positions and the same thing with the [pitching] staff,” Arteaga said. “It’s going to be a veteran rotation. It’s definitely going to be the strength of our pitching staff, the starting rotation.”

Among the newcomers expected to make a difference for the Hurricanes this season are senior outfielder Lucas Costello, a transfer from Wake Forest, and freshman infielder Daniel Cuvet.

Last season with the Demon Deacons, Costello hit .288 with 43 runs, 24 RBI, nine doubles and four home runs. Cuvet, meanwhile, starred at the Elite Squad Baseball Academy where he hit .380 with 12 home runs before being selected by the Pittsburgh Pirates in the 17th round of the draft.

Both say they’re ready to now make an impact in Coral Gables.

“It’s very, very competitive. We have a lot of depth. We have a lot of new guys, a lot of hungry guys, a lot of unproven guys and everyone’s ready,” said Costello, who hails from Miami and played high school baseball at Westminster Christian. “We’re ready to surprise the League.”

Added Cuvet, “Being here [at Miami], the winning aspect of that, is huge. I love that. I’m a big winner and I think the guys around here [too], so I’m really excited for that.”

While Costello, Cuvet and 16 other newcomers will look to make their presence felt, the Hurricanes – who posted a 42-21 record last season – have several returning players that are looking to improve from last year’s second-place finish in the Coastal Division.

Freshman All-American Blake Cyr – who hit .305 with 63 RBI, 50 runs, and 17 home runs – is back, as is pitcher Gage Ziehl, who will take the mound Friday for the season opener.

It’s an opportunity the junior isn’t taking for granted.

“Set the tone. To me, that’s what I’m going out there to do,” said Ziehl, who posted an 8-4 record with a 4.30 ERA last season. “Set the tone for what this year is going to be like.”

Also back for the Hurricanes are pitcher Rafe Schlesinger, who was 3-1 with a 3.38 ERA last season, catcher Carlos Perez, who is coming off a season in which he had 13 home runs and 31 RBI and outfielder Edgardo Villegas, who hit .264 last year with 27 RBI and seven home runs.

Arteaga and the Hurricanes hope their experience, combined with the talent of some of Miami’s newcomers, will help the Hurricanes put together another postseason run, one that this time, will get the team back to Omaha and the College World Series.

“Just coming out here with energy, that’s the biggest thing,” Ziehl said. “You know you’ve got to take it one day at a time. You can’t look too far ahead. But [we] know that we do have a mission and it is Omaha.”

Said Arteaga, “I think you’re going to find it’s an exciting team to watch. They’re going to play hard. We don’t have too many big names because it’s a lot of new names, but I promise you, before they’re done here, they’re going to leave their mark on the program.”