Friday, February 26, 1999

Miami good at baseball, too




BY SCOTT MacGREGOR
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        One nearly magical week has led to big expectations for the Miami RedHawks baseball team.

        The Mid-American Conference tournament last year was a coming-out party for the mostly young RedHawks, who entered the tourney as No.5 seed but upset the No.1, No.2 and No.4 seeds before falling just a run short of the NCAA Tournament, losing to top-seed Bowling Green 7-6 in the championship game.

        That not only heightened Miami's sense of its possibilities, but the rest of the MAC's as well. The league's coaches have picked Miami to win the MAC East Division. Ball State is the overall favorite.

        Miami opens the 1999 season today, beginning a three-game series at consensus Top 5 power Wichita State.

        “It's kind of a different position for us,” Miami coach Tracy Smith said. “In the past, we haven't really gotten the respect the kids deserve. I don't want to play that up, but this is the first time the conference coaches have shown a little respect for us. People didn't know (the freshmen), so I don't blame them.”

        Miami lost its top offensive producers, Ben Eversole and John Sullivan, who combined for 23 homers and 100 RBI last year. But Smith expects the nucleus of the '98 team — sophomores who played extensively as rookies — and a solid, intact starting rotation to fill the void.

        “We're still young, but those guys have a lot of innings,” Smith said.

        The return of the starting rotation is key, though Smith wants more consistency. Starter Ty Neal, a senior left-hander, and closer candidate Jay Harper, a junior righty from Lakota, are question marks because of arm soreness.

        Sophomore righty Nate Tekavac, a power pitcher with a hard breaking ball who led the club with nine wins last year, is the No.1 starter and will open the season at Wichita State. Mark Floersch, also a sophomore righty, had six wins and a team-high 56 strikeouts, while freshmen Russ Bayer and Billy Kieninger will battle for the rotation with Neal out indefinitely.

        The offense is sparked by leadoff man Clark Mace, the MAC co-freshman of the year last season and a star in the making. He hit .349 with 39 RBI, and in Miami's last 10 games he drove in 10 runs.

        “He runs extremely well, he's going to hit for power, he steals bases, defensively he can go get them,” Smith said. “I mean this in all sincerity: He could play three sports at Miami. That's how good of an athlete he is.”

        Power will be supplied by senior catcher D.J. Eckhart (.330, 9 HR, 50 RBI) and sophomore third baseman John Lackaff (.308, 9 HR, 30 RBI in limited at bats because he also played basketball last year). Shortstop Jeremy Ison (.262), second baseman Mark Thewes (.274) and first baseman Joe Spain (.339) round out the infield.

       



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