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College World Series: Dogs' foe seeking fifth title

POSTED: June 20, 2008 5:01 a.m.

CORAL GABLES, Fla. — Jim Morris pointed toward the scoreboard in left-center field.

The lights weren’t on. No runs, no hits, no errors to see. Instead, Miami’s longtime baseball coach was gesturing to the sign that lists the Hurricanes’ four national championship seasons: 1982, 1985, 1999 and 2001.

"Those are the four best teams in Miami history," Morris said, "because those are the four teams that got it done."

Soon, it might be time for a new sign.

The Hurricanes — the No. 1 seeds in the NCAA field and winners of 52 of 61 games this season — are headed back to Omaha this week, the 23rd trip to the College World Series in program history and the 11th under Morris.

Morris makes it abundantly clear that the only real goal for Miami each season is to win the national championship. His club will have that chance, and starts the eight-team CWS against Georgia on Saturday night.

"We worked so hard," said Miami first baseman Yonder Alonso, the slugger who was selected No. 7 overall by the Cincinnati Reds in last week’s baseball draft. "A lot of work goes through it, in the fall, summer. All you think about is Omaha. Once you get out there it’s nice — but now you want to take care of business."

To Morris, that’s exactly what it is, a business trip.

Morris has told the story of his job interview at Miami, by his own count, about 1,000 times over the years, and will likely repeat it ad nauseum in the coming days. The day Morris came to Coral Gables seeking the coaching gig, a door in the baseball complex was propped open with an NCAA runner-up trophy. Could there be a better way to explain that championships are the only thing that matter to one of college baseball’s all-time legendary programs?

It’s not just hyperbole, either.

As his team rushed the field Sunday night immediately following the final out of the Super Regional victory over Arizona, Morris remained in the dugout for a few moments. And when he emerged, he didn’t run to join his players, who were jumping for joy in short right field. Instead, Morris just kept an emotionless stare on his face as he headed toward the Arizona dugout for handshakes.

By his standards, just getting to Omaha isn’t enough cause to celebrate.

"I’ve talked to our guys about guys who have played out there before, like Pat Burrell and Ryan Braun, whoever it might be," Morris said, referencing two former Hurricane stars who are now standouts in the majors. "The biggest games they played in their lives was in Omaha. With the exception of the World Series in major league baseball, the best crowds are there."

It’ll be a big challenge.

Being the top-seeded team isn’t always an advantage at College World Series time. The only No. 1 overall seed to win the CWS since the field was expanded to 64 teams was the 1999 Hurricanes, and no top-eight seed has won it all since Rice in 2003.

"When you’re the No. 1 seed, everyone brings their A-game," said Miami right fielder Dennis Raben, who is getting as much acclaim these days for his mohawk hairdo as he is for his bat. "Us being Miami, everyone always tries to knock off Miami. I don’t know if it’s because they don’t like us or because we’ve won recent national championships and everything. It’s tough, man. The No. 1 seed, you’ve got a target on your back. Everyone tries to knock you off."

Arizona almost did.

The Wildcats won Game 1 of the best-of-three Super Regional, putting Miami in the spot of having to rally to win a playoff series at home. The Hurricanes found a way, though, erasing a 4-0 deficit to win Game 2 by 14-10, then holding off the Wildcats to clinch the series 4-2 on Sunday night.

Every huddle all season, the Hurricanes have broken with the same cry: "Omaha!"

They’re finally on their way.

"We know we’ve got something special this year," Raben said. "So we’re going to take advantage of it and try to get a ring."



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