The University of Miami baseball team didn’t want any late heartbreakers Thursday night, especially with talented starting pitcher Chris Diaz scratched from the lineup because of another pitcher’s injury — and a berth in the Atlantic Coast Conference tournament on the line.
So, the Hurricanes, who have struggled all season to produce runs, smacked the ball and scored five in the first three innings at Alex Rodriguez Park to stretch the lead into an 8-3 victory over ACC rival Georgia Tech.
It turns out that before the victory — one that also encompassed excellent starting pitching and defense — the Canes (34-20, 13-15 ACC) clinched a spot in the ACC tournament when North Carolina State defeated Duke and Virginia Tech beat Wake Forest.
“It was a big win for us,” UM coach Jim Morris said. “It’s nice to see [Eric] Whaley, a senior in his last career start in the regular season, get a win and pitch well. We swung the bat a lot better [Thursday] than we’ve swung it in a while. We hit some balls hard. I’m very excited with the way we played.”
Diaz, a left-handed sophomore with a mean breaking ball and a 1.41 ERA, was scratched because No. 3 pitcher Andrew Suarez pulled his groin Wednesday, altering the rotation. Pitching in Diaz’s place Thursday was the right-hander Whaley, who started only two midweek games this season because of recurring shoulder tightness. Whaley had a stellar night, matching the season-high-tying five innings he had in his last start against Columbia on March 19. He allowed two hits and one walk but didn’t give up a run, retiring the last 11 batters he faced after Mott Hyde ripped a triple to deep center.
Georgia Tech fell to 32-22 and 14-14 in the ACC, with ace Buck Farmer (8-4) lasting six innings in the loss.
“I found out [Wednesday] and, obviously, I was pretty pumped,” said Whaley (3-1) of the unexpected start. “[Thursday night] I was locating my fastball, hitting my spots, and the defense made some good plays for me. My arm felt really good, probably the best it has felt in a while.”
Freshman Thomas Woodrey gave up all three runs, two of them earned, in 1 2/3 innings.
Leading the Canes offensively were junior Brad Fieger, who had a two-run double in the third and drove home another run in the first on a sacrifice fly, and freshman David Thompson, who had an RBI double in the first, was intentionally walked and scored two runs.
“We know we’ve struggled,” Thompson said, “and it’s never too late to turn things around.”
Garrett Kennedy added an RBI single and a sacrifice fly, and Dale Carey had two hits and an RBI.
Chantz Mack, who helped initiate a heart-to-heart pep talk Tuesday to inspire the offense, tripled in the seventh.
The Canes, who equaled last year’s regular-season win total, will go with left-handed starter Diaz (5-4) at 7:30 p.m. Friday against righty Dusty Isaacs (4-5, 3.68).