Hall Of Canes

CHAMPIONSHIP YEAR FOR CANES' BASEBALL TEAM?

The Canes baseball team swept their season-opening, three-game series vs. visiting Cincinnati this past week despite getting little production from their "Big Four" junior hitters.

Yonder Alonso, Jemile Weeks and Blake Tekotte all hit .250 or less against the Bearcats, and right fielder Dennis Raben sat out the series due to a minor back injury.

But the Canes' pitchers stepped up, allowing just 5 runs in the 3 games. The team ERA stands at an impressive 1.67.

Here is a position-by-position look at this year's team:

CATCHER

This position is more important than usual this season. For the first time in his  career, long-time UM Coach  Jim Morris is allowing his catchers to call the pitches, which seemingly puts the pressure on sophomore Jason Hagerty, who was a seldom-used backup to Richard O'Brien last season, and freshman Yasmani Grandal.

So far, so good, however. Not only did the catchers call the right pitches  vs. Cincinnati (judging by the 1.67 ERA), they also came up with a couple of extra-base hits. Hagerty, who started the first two games, had one of the biggest hits of the series, a three-run homer that tied up game 2 in the late innings. Grandal hit a double in his first-ever college start on Sunday.

Despite the homer, Hagerty's forte is his defense and pitch-calling, which he handled all through high school. Grandal has the potential to be a big bat in this lineup for the next three or four years.

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CANES CLOSING IN ON NCAA TOURNEY BID

With four straight wins - including Saturday's 78-63 run-away over visiting Maryland - the Canes' basketball team has put itself on the verge of an NCAA Tournament bid.

If they split their remaining four regular-season games - home games vs. last-place Virginia and fast-fading Boston College and roadies against Clemson on Wednesday and Florida State in the finale - the Canes will have a good case for entry to the NCAA dance.

In that scenario, Miami would play a low seed in the first round of the ACC Tournament and a win there would likely cement Miami's bid.

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CANES WIN SEASON OPENER IN BASEBALL

The host Canes won their baseball season opener Friday night, 3-1, over Cincinnati. The Canes' bats were fairly silent, especially with star right fielder Dennis Raben out with a back injury. (He should return soon.)

But the Canes' pitching was even better than expected. Ace Eric Erickson, who won 10 games as a Freshman All-American last season, allowed one run in six innings and earned the victory.

But the big surprise was the bullpen. Kyle Bellamy pitched two shutout innings, striking out the side in the 7th with some nasty sidearm stuff. And closer Carlos Gutierrez earned the save with a shutout 9th inning.

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CANES GET A 5-STAR COMMITMENT

The Canes got a commitment Thursday from Kansas 5-star running back Bryce Brown, a 6-0, 215-pounder with speed and an ability to  punish defenders.

The oral commitment is non-binding, and the kid can change his mind 50 times between now and National Signing Day in February of 2009. That's especially true since Brown said he will still take the five visits he is allowed to other colleges.

But with  his  brother - LB Arthur Brown - already on Miami's campus, it is unlikely Bryce changes his mind. In fact, it is more likely Bryce uses his status as a prep All-American to recruit other star players to Miami. Congratulations Bryce! Let's Give that man a Cigar!

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CANES GET COMMITMENT FROM HIGHSMITH'S SON

Two weeks after wrapping up the No. 1 recruiting class in the nation, the Canes' football program has its first commitment for 2009.

He's Texas quarterback/safety A.J. Highsmith, a 6-1, 180-pounder. He is the son of former Canes fullback Alonzo Highsmith, who went on to become a first-round pick in the NFL before injuries ended his career.

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FIRST WIN OVER DUKE IN 45 YEARS!

Are you kidding me? The Canes beat Duke for the first time in 45 years!

The Canes almost blew a 20-point lead before holding on for dear life in a 96-95 thriller. UM's Jack McClinton made a free throw with 1.6 seconds left to seal the game. Duke made a long three-pointer just before the buzzer to make the score closer than it really was.

The Canes struggle against a full-court press - they have all season. But why focus on the one negative on a night of so many positives?

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WITH DUKE IN TOWN, LET'S TALK HOOPS

As I get ready to watch Miami host fifth-ranked Duke in about 5 minutes, here are a few things on my mind:

 

AFTER WIN OVER GA. TECH, CAN CANES UPSET DUKE?

The Canes improved to 17-7 overall and 4-6 in the ACC with a 64-63 win at Georgia Tech on Sunday.

The Canes have six games remaining in the ACC, and they have to win 4 to finish with a .500 conference record and an excellent chance at making the NCAA Tournament.

Here is how they can earn those four wins:

Wed - Home for Duke -  Loss (Duke was upset by Wake Sunday and is vulnerable. Canes have a shot here - count on a fired up, sold-out crowd at UM on Wednesday - but let's call it a loss.)

Sat - Home for Maryland - Win (Terps are one of the top four teams in the ACC, so this will be tough to do. But the Canes are home for two games this week, and they need a split at least.)

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3-4 MAKES SENSE FOR CANES' MIX

Options - that's what last week's huge and hugely talented recruiting class gives Canes coaches. Miami signed 33 players, not counting transfer Xavier Shannon, who figures to help immediately on the offensive line.

Plus, several players who redshirted last season - including quarterback Robert Marve, running back Lee Chambers, receiver Jermaine McKenzie, center Harland Gunn, defensive ends Allen Bailey and Adewale Ojomo, linebackers Glenn Cook and Romeo Davis and safety Anthony Reddick - figure to be major contributors in 2008.

True, at least a couple of the recruits are likely not to play this coming season due to academic or other factors. For example, linebacker Antonio Harper had knee surgery recently and won't play again until 2009. LB Gavin Hardin seems ticketed for prep school.

But even so, the Canes will still have a severe influx of talent. Now the question becomes this: What do the coaches do with all that talent?

One idea I would investigate would be a 3-4 defense. It would be especially effective if the Canes deny they switch defenses and in fact start the season vs. Charleston Southern in their traditional 4-3 look. Then, when the Canes visit Florida in the second week of the season, they open in a 3-4 look and stun the Gators!

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EIGHT IN 08? A CANES PREDICTION

After finishing 5-7 in Randy Shannon's first season as the Canes' head coach, the million-dollar question is this: How many will UM win in Year Two?

Since I am the eternal optimist, you probably have to subtract about three wins from my prediction to arrive at UM's actual record. Last season, for example, I predicted Miami would win 8 or 9 games.

This season, I am optimistic as usual. The just concluded recruiting season appears to have been a huge success. We'll find out in the next few years, of course, but for right now at least, the program is on a positive track.

And the 2008 schedule, released Friday, is not terribly difficult. Only the trip to Gainesville to play Florida appears to be a sure loss. And since that is a rivalry game, I would not put a Canes upset as an impossibility.

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