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End Overshadowed Baseball's Success

Thursday, September 11, 2008 11:41am
By: Accsports Staff

CORAL GABLES – Despite the fact that he was a soon-to-be millionaire, Miami first baseman Yonder Alonso had trouble holding back the tears.

It didn't matter that, days earlier, he was selected in the first round of the Major League Baseball draft. What did was the fact that the Hurricanes had just lost to Stanford in the College World Series, prematurely ending one of the best seasons in school history.

The Hurricanes had their best winning percentage ever under coach Jim Morris. They were the first Miami team to win an ACC Tournament. They were the top seed in the NCAA Tournament. But all of that was forgotten after they were eliminated after just three games in Omaha.

"There's not always something necessarily you can put a finger on," UM outfielder Dennis Raben said. "We just didn't get it done. That's baseball."

The Hurricanes ended the year with a 53-11 record and fell into the same category as the 1998 Miami team. That group, led by No. 1 pick Pat Burrell, was considered the most talented in school history but lost in the CWS.

Hitting, which had been the Hurricanes' strength all season, was their downfall. They struggled in losses to Georgia and Stanford. Alonso struck out three times in his final collegiate game.

"We've got a great offensive club," Morris said. "We didn't swing the bat well this week. The team that wins out here is not necessarily the best club, it's the team that gets hot."

Although the year ended in failure, the Hurricanes did accomplish something no other team had in school history. Three players were selected in the first round of the draft. Alonso led the way by being taken seventh overall by Cincinnati. He was followed by second baseman Jemile Weeks at No. 12 (Oakland) and pitcher Carlos Gutierrez at No. 27 (Minnesota).

"That's a tribute to our players," Morris said. "They've done a great job of working hard. ... These guys improved their draft status a lot."

Alonso led the Hurricanes with 25 home runs and was selected to virtually every All-America team. Weeks could become the second member of his family to make the big leagues. His brother, Rickie, plays for the Milwaukee Brewers.

Gutierrez was the surprise of the group. After going undrafted out of high school, he steadily improved during his three seasons in Coral Gables. He was the team's leader in saves last season.

"His fastball improved about 10 miles an hour," Morris said. "He's improved tremendously as a player. ... He's got the best sinker of any pitcher I've had since Kevin Brown."

SHANNON IMPRESSED WITH TROOPS

Miami football coach Randy Shannon recently visited U.S. military personnel in Europe and the Middle East. It left him with an appreciation for the troops.

"Watching 19-, 20-, 21-year-olds do various jobs and do them with perfection, you get amazed, because I am coaching 19-, 20-, 21-year-olds, and it is the same type of thing," Shannon said. "You want perfection."

Shannon made the tour with four other college coaches: Mark Richt (Georgia), Jack Siedlecki (Yale), Tommy Tuberville (Auburn) and Charlie Weis (Notre Dame). They visited various camp areas, bases and hospitals.

The highlight for Shannon came when he met an injured soldier that turned out to be a player he recruited out of a Louisiana high school.

"Those guys are confident in what they are doing," Shannon said. "The biggest question in their mind was, ‘Does everyone at home still respect us?'"

DEFENSE SUFFERS ANOTHER INJURY

Offseason injuries on the defensive line have made it one of the concerns for the upcoming football season.

The Hurricanes entered the spring already without tackle Josh Holmes, who is expected to miss the 2008 season with a leg injury. Then came the news of end Allen Bailey being a question mark for the season opener, after suffering a torn pectoral injury.

Now comes news that end Courtney Harris is lost for the year with a torn Achilles. Harris was supposed to back up Bailey and standout Eric Moncur.

Without Harris, the Hurricanes will rely on redshirt freshman Adewale Ojomo or possibly move an incoming freshman (probably Micanor Regis or Marcus Forston) over from tackle. There's also rookie Gavin Hardin, who could move from linebacker.

So much inexperience could lead to trouble and make things even more difficult for first-year defensive coordinator Bill Young. He was hired to replace Tim Walton, who was responsible for one of the worst defenses in recent Miami history.

The Hurricanes gave up 312 points last season, including 51 to Oklahoma and 48 to Virginia at the Orange Bowl. It was the first time Miami had allowed 300 points since 1984.

BASKETBALL TEAM GETS RESPECT

The Miami basketball team was the surprise of the ACC after making its first appearance in the NCAA Tournament since the 2001-02 season, but it won't raise any eyebrows next year.

Miami is starting to earn respect, in the program's fifth year under coach Frank Haith. The Hurricanes were ranked No. 8 in the ESPN preseason poll and among the top 20 by Fox Sports (15th) and CBS Sports (17th). If Miami maintains its No. 8 spot, it would tie the highest preseason ranking in school history. The 1960 team entered the season ranked eighth by the Associated Press.

The last UM team to receive this much attention came in 1999, when the Hurricanes were led by Tim James, who went on to become the Big East player of the year. This season, Miami will return several key players from last year's 23-11 team, which lost to Texas in the second round of the South Regional.

The most important returnee is Jack McClinton, who averaged a team-high 17.7 points on his way to being named first-team All-ACC. The Hurricanes return four starters and should receive a strong boost from incoming freshmen DeQuan Jones and Reggie Johnson.

Jones, a top-25 player (according to some analysts) out of Wheeler High in Marietta, Ga., is the highest-rated signee in Haith's tenure. Johnson played at Winston-Salem (N.C.) Prep and averaged 24.1 points and 16.1 rebounds.

Other new faces include big men Julian Gamble, who redshirted last year, and transfer Cyrus McGowan, who sat out last year under NCAA rules after coming over from Arkansas.