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June 2, 2012Stay connected to the Canes. Sign-up for CaneSport.com Wireless Text Alerts sent right to your cell phone and register with CaneSport on FACEBOOK and TWITTER! Don't miss the all-new digital CANESPORT MAGAZINE - - covering every game inside and out.
Even the Wizard of College Baseball, Ron Fraser, occasionally endured an out-of-synch season.
Just two years after winning the University of Miami's second College World Series title, his 1987 team started the season 2-7, went 0-2 in the NCAA Regional at Tallahassee and finished 35-24-1.
And Jim Morris, a year after winning his second College World Series, went 34-29 in 2002, but the Hurricanes landed on their feet by winning the Regional at Gainesville over the Florida Gators 8-7.
This year's team landed on its derriere, going 0-2 in the Regional at Alex Rodriguez Park at Mark Light Field to finish 36-23. That's the first time in the program's storied history that the Canes failed to win a game in a Regional or Super Regional at home.
The P.A. system fittingly played Supertramp's "The Long Way Home" as fans and players left following Saturday's 12-2 loss to Missouri State, which came less than 24 hours after a 10-2 loss to Stony Brook.
"They're losing to the Bears and playing like the Bad News Bears," one wag sitting near the press box said as Missouri State grabbed a 9-0 lead in the second inning.
This ugly finish for a 36-23 record elicited comments we haven't heard since Brad Kelley's one-and-done 1993 season ended with seven consecutive losses, including two straight in the Regional at Baton Rouge, La., for a 36-22 record, followed by an off-the-field incident that reportedly led to his exodus.
Now we're hearing: What's wrong with Hurricane baseball? Has recruiting slipped? Is this the end of an era?
As an observer of the program since long before the current players were born, I see two factors at work in what's out of synch:
* The Major League Baseball draft is ravaging UM's recruiting. Perhaps they're recruiting too well, if there's such a thing, because so many top prospects who commit are grabbing the money and running to the professional level. The Hurricanes either need a break in getting a couple of those prospects, as the Florida Gators have of late, or they need to do a better job in signing the ones who want to play college ball first.
* It's becoming harder for private universities to compete for top players. USC, the one in LA and not the one in South Carolina that won the last two College World Series, is no longer on the radar. Stanford isn't the power it used to be, though it's still in the top 20. The cost of private schools, and the tough academic requirements, are making the challenge of being an elite program more difficult.
"The biggest thing the last two or three years, we've been crushed in the draft," Morris said. "As people who follow it closely know, it's something that's out of our control. There's no one more anxious for the draft starting Monday at 7 o'clock than me ... We've signed some of the best players in the country, we signed the best player in Puerto Rico, but you've got to sign players that go to school."
It's a stunning fact that the highest drafted player to come to UM under Morris was Jemile Weeks, an eighth-rounder, who turned down $800,000. He's in the Major Leagues now. Yet 150 of his players, including his 12 years at Georgia Tech, have gone on to pro careers, including Hurricanes Yonder Alonso, Pat Burrell, Ryan Braun, Danny Graves, Alex Cora, Jon Jay and Gaby Sanchez.
"We need to put together a couple of recruiting classes that are very, very solid," Morris said. "Guys who can play the game. It's our job to make sure they play it, do our best job of teaching them (to be) team players and know what Miami baseball is all about. I've got guys that played here (on the coaching staff), J.D. Arteaga, the winningest pitcher in the history of the College World Series, and Gino DiMare, who played in the College World Series three out of four years he was here. We have guys who know what it takes to get to Miami. We've got to get the right players, and we'll get it done."
This has arguably been the strangest season Morris has labored through at UM. The Canes were swept by Florida in three games at home in early March and they lost all three at Florida State in late April.
Yet they swept three games at home against third-ranked North Carolina in April and knocked the Tar Heels out of the ACC tournament a week ago at Greensboro, going on to finish second in the tournament after being seeded sixth.
They lost eight of 10 games to end April, then won seven of nine leading into the ACC tournament.
The team batting average of .259 was the lowest at UM in 42 years, since the 1970 team batted .257. Only one player, senior Peter O'Brien, a transfer from Bethune-Cookman, hit over .300. And he missed much of the last half of the season because of a wrist injury.
The Hurricanes have not been to Omaha since 2008, a five-year drought that is the longest in the Morris era.
They had won 18 consecutive NCAA Regionals and five consecutive Super Regionals at home, going back to the days of Fraser. They had never lost a post-season tournament at home under Morris.
The last time they were eliminated from a Regional at home was in 1990 when The Citadel won two games against the Hurricanes in a four-team tournament that included North Carolina State. The only other time they've lost a Regional at home was in 1977 to Clemson.
The flip side: Morris has taken the Hurricanes to the post season in all of his 19 years at UM, extending the school's national record of tournament appearances to 40 years.
Morris has been National Coach of the Year three times. He was ACC Coach of the Year in 2008. He has taken the Hurricane to Omaha 11 times.
He is the only coach in NCAA history to take a team to the College World Series in each of his first six seasons at a program. He led them to 13 consecutive NCAA Regional titles, an NCAA record.
His UM record is 850-344-3 (.710). Including his 12 seasons at Georgia Tech before arriving at UM in 1994, his Division 1 record in 30 years is 1,354-588-4 (700).
To those critics who call talk shows and complain about the state of the program and want the head of Morris, I ask this: Whom would you bring in?
Like Fraser, Morris should be allowed to finish his UM career on his own terms, barring a scandal or complete collapse of talent.
As Morris noted, Hurricane baseball fans are spoiled, as are Hurricane football fans. The programs have set the bar at the highest level
Morris will have a staff meeting soon and a team meeting Tuesday to discuss the future of the program, as he annually does, and ask, "What do we need to do to get better as players and coaches? What do we need to do in all phases of the game?"
Then, as he noted, it's time to recruit and out-work people.
"I think Miami baseball has out-worked people over the years, a lot of it, whether it be the players or the coaches," he said.
The same could be said for football. Al Golden and his staff, who appear to be workaholics, are making inroads in bringing the program back. They don't face the problem of kids turning pro out of high school, but they face the challenge of competing with SEC schools and Florida State for the top players while being the state's highest-rated university in academics.
Morris and his staff face a similar challenge. So does men's basketball coach Jim Larranaga.
Stanford is showing that a great private university can still compete at the top level in football and baseball and even basketball.
Now it's UM's turn.