CORAL GABLES, Fla.— Miami’s players and coaches gathered in the clubhouse for their annual team meeting after the NCAA baseball tournament pairings were unveiled.
It was over quickly.
No one knew what to say.
Miami’s record streak — 44 consecutive years in the NCAA tournament, the longest for any college team in any Division I sport — ended quietly Monday, when the Hurricanes did not get an at-large berth into this year’s 64-team field. The Hurricanes (31-27) were the first team out, the NCAA said, which did nothing to soften the blow for a team that went to the College World Series in each of the last two years.
Miami’s record 44-year streak of tournament appearances ends.
— ACC Digital Network (@theACCDN) May 29, 2017
“It’s hard,” said Miami infielder Johnny Ruiz, tears welling in his eyes as he sat in the dugout afterward and paused to try to compose himself enough so that he could speak. “Being a guy from Coral Gables … it’s been an honor to play my four years here. I came back to try to help this team win. So it’s just hard. I’m sorry.”
Miami is a program that begins every year with the highest of expectations. The last word players see when they depart their clubhouse is “Omaha,” a nod to the site of the College World Series. The story gets told annually about how when Jim Morris interviewed to become coach of the Hurricanes, who became a national power starting in the 1970s under Ron Fraser, he noticed an NCAA second-place trophy being used as a doorstop.
This was Morris’ 24th season at Miami — and just the second time on his watch that the Hurricanes won’t play a game in June.
“It’s an honor and a privilege to be part of 44,” said Morris, who plans to step down after next season. “It’s a streak that’s unmatched in any sport in NCAA history. Being part of that, part of that with coach Fraser, it’s an honor. I’m very disappointed that we didn’t get in.”
Miami started this season 4-8, and was 15-19 in mid-April. But the Hurricanes went 16-8 in their final 24 games, hoping that finish along with a 16-13 mark in the Atlantic Coast Conference and two wins in the ACC tournament would be enough.
Thank you to the best fans in college baseball. pic.twitter.com/leQtL9gQE4
— Canes Baseball (@CanesBaseball) May 29, 2017
History says Miami had a strong case. Over the last 30 years, 90 percent of ACC teams that went .500 or better in league play made the NCAA tournament. Until now, only three — Duke (16-8 in 1994), North Carolina (13-7 in 1987) and Wake Forest (16-13 in 2006) — were three games or more over the .500 mark in ACC play and didn’t get a berth.
“It’s devastating for a lot of people, including myself,” Morris said.
It was the second time in the 2016-17 academic year that a Miami team could argue it was snubbed by NCAA tournament selectors. Back in the fall, Miami’s women’s soccer program became the first team out of 154 in ACC history to post a .500 record in conference games but not get a spot in the NCAA field.
NCAA baseball selection committee chairman Scott Sidwell said Miami’s win total — 30 against Division I teams — could not be ignored.
“Ultimately, just didn’t stack up,” Sidwell said.
The longest active streak of NCAA appearances now belongs to Florida State, with 40. The next-closest is Cal State Fullerton, with 26.
Miami’s streak included four national championships, spanned nine U.S. presidents and saw the Hurricanes reach the College World Series on 25 occasions — with 568 players earning letters in those 44 seasons.
One of the greatest runs of all time in college sports 44 consecutive years of post season play! Miami Hurricane baseball! U Family!
— Mark Richt (@MarkRicht) May 30, 2017
And now, it’s over.
“Having ‘The U’ on our chest, it’s just the biggest honor in the country, the best thing that’s ever happened to me in my life for sure,” senior first baseman Christopher Barr said. “All the past players here, they’re always watching. I’m going to be watching for the rest of my life. You can cut me open, I’m going to be orange and green forever.”