Credit where credit is due, No. 19 Miami got a home sweep at a necessary time this weekend. Furthermore, there was drama, heart and some thrilling come-from-behind scoring that all went the Canes’ way, which was a must after a recent slump.
That said, it was Bethune-Cookman and anything other than a sweep is deemed unacceptable at this point of the season. Not because the Wildcats are a bad program, but they’re a lesser one and when you’re a powerhouse program like UM has been over the years, you make a statement in games like these.
Bethune-Cookman traveled to Gainesville late April and was beaten down 10-1 by Florida. That’s what good teams do against opponents like this and Miami looked to be on track on in game one.
UM opened the series with a 7-0 Friday victory, behind the arm of Eric Erickson, as well as nine hits and an explosive eighth inning, where the Canes put up six runs, after a sluggish start.
Bethune-Cookman threw their ace in game one, Rayan Gonzalez, who entered 7-1 on the season and held Miami in check the majority of the evening, getting himself out of hairy situations in the fourth and fifth innings, while Erickson struck out eight, allowed zero earned runs and also went seven innings, holding the Wildcats scoreless. He was relieved by Eric Nedeljkovic and Adam Sargent, who closed out the evening effectively.
Miami took a 1-0 lead in the bottom of the sixth, when Brad Feiger doubled to left-center and drove Chantz Mack home, who reached on a two-out walk and found second after a Gonzalez balk.
The Canes tore up the Wildcats’ relievers in the bottom of the eighth, looking to set the tone for the series, though games two and three proved more challenging than expected.
Steven Ewing took the mound on Saturday night and after one, Bethune-Cookman jumped out to a 2-0 lead. Miami pulled out the 5-4 victory, despite only two hits to the Wildcats’ nine. UM also had three errors on the evening.
The defining inning came in the bottom of the fifth, when Miami scored four and chased starting pitcher Gabriel Hernandez from the game. Hernandez issued back-to-back walk to Rony Rodriguez and Esteban Tresgallo, followed by a sacrifice bunt to Jarred Mederos, which moved runners to second and third, with one out.
A weak grounder by Garrett Kennedy ended up scoring both Rodriguez and Tresgallo, aided by a fielding error from second to first. Miami was up 3-2 before recording its first hit of the night, which came from Stephen Perez, driving home Kennedy. Mack eventually drove Perez home and Miami ended the inning up, 5-2.
The Wildcats picked up two in the six, closing the lead to, 5-4, but Sargent, A.J. Salcines and Nedeljkovic shut it down, with Nedeljkovic earning his third save of the season.
With the series in the bag, game three was for bragging rites, the sweep and to hopefully give this Miami program a much-needed shot in the arm. The Canes were up 1-0 after one, but the Wildcats tied things up in the top of the fourth. UM went ahead 2-1 in the bottom of the fourth, but BCU picked one up in the top of the fifth, tying things again.
Bethune-Cookman took a 3-2 lead in the top of the eighth, putting the Canes in position to win it in the bottom of the ninth – and they did just that.
After back-to-back singles from Perez and Dale Carey, Mack walked to load the bases, with only one out. Freshman Alexander Fernandez, who pinch-ran for Feiger earlier in the game, drew a walk and his first career RBI, tying the game, 3-3.
From there, Michael Broad stepped to the plate, sending a shallow fly ball to center, which sent Carey home. Carey tapped home with his left hand, maneuvering around Wildcat catcher Carlos Delgado, plating the game-winner and sending Miami into a celebration that felt like they’d just clinched a trip to Omaha.
While the winning series was a nice shot in the arm, the College World Series remains a lifetime away for the 30-17 Hurricanes. Seven games remain, six of which are ACC contests, which is no easy task as UM is 12-12 in conference this season.
Miami welcomes Wake Forest for a three-game series this weekend, takes on Florida Gulf Coast next Tuesday and then heads to Georgia Tech on Thursday the 17th to close out the regular season. The ACC Tourney kicks off Wednesday the 23rd in Greensboro, with Miami looking to raise its stock before seedings are announced.
A fun weekend for Miami baseball, but definitely not a three-game stint to get too high or too low over. The next seven games set the stage for the post-season and time will tell if these Canes rise to the occasion, or if a season’s worth of mistakes continues plaguing them as 2012 wraps up. – C.B.