The “0” Zack Collins wears on his back must have felt like it was mocking the Miami Hurricanes freshman slugger.
After all, the elite prospect had started his career 0 for 17 with five strikeouts.
But in the sixth inning Saturday night, Collins — with a major assist from coach Jim Morris — broke out of his slump with a three-run homer, snapping a tie score and leading the host Canes to a 5-2 win over the Florida Gators.
With the victory, the 16th-ranked Canes (4-2) took a series from No. 23 Florida (4-3) for the first time since 2009. The Canes will go for the three-game sweep Sunday at 1 p.m.
The Canes’ winning rally started with a leadoff double by David Thompson and a one-out walk to Willie Abreu. With Collins due up, Gators Coach Kevin O’Sullivan brought in left-hander Danny Young.
At that point a lefty pitcher with a 1.00 ERA against a hitless freshman lefty hitter – Morris could have called for a pinch-hitter. But he stayed with Collins, who drilled the first pitch on a line, over the fence and out of the park in right field.
“I try not to think about that stuff,” Collins said when asked about the possibility of being pinch-hit for, one game after he was benched. “I was confident in myself that I was going to come through.
“The only thing I was thinking was not to hit into a double play. I guess they thought I was going to take a pitch, so they threw a fastball right down the middle. I knew I hit it hard. I was pumped.”
Collins became the first Hurricane since Yonder Alonso in 2006 to make his first career hit a home run.
Morris said he did consider pinch-hitting for Collins but ultimately showed his faith in the freshman.
“The coaches all feel that Zack is one of our best hitters,” Morris said.
The win went to another freshman, reliever Cooper Hammond (1-0), who got out of a bases-loaded jam in the sixth.
And the save, his second in two nights, went to yet another freshman, Bryan Garcia.
“This freshman class has a chance to be special,” Morris said.
Garcia, who threw 35 pitches Friday and 24 Saturday, won’t go again on Sunday. But Morris said he has made a strong case to be the team’s closer, along with senior A.J. Salcines, depending on whether the team needs a lefty or a right-hander.
The Canes opened the scoring in the third inning. Former Gator Tyler Palmer grounded a single through the hole into left field to score Johnny Ruiz, who had walked and moved up on a passed ball charged to Taylor Gushue.
Palmer, who stole second and third base, was stranded when Florida third baseman Josh Tobias made a diving stop on a Brad Fieger grounder, throwing him out at first.
Similarly, Palmer was stranded in the first, when he doubled and moved up on a wild pitch. He was left at third, however, when David Thompson popped out and Fieger struck out.
The Gators threatened in the second and fourth innings, but Canes starter Bryan Radziewski escaped each time.
Florida cut the Miami lead to 2-1 in the fifth on a sacrifice fly by Ryan Larson. That scored Mattson, who led off the inning with a double off the wall in left-center field.
Florida loaded the bases with two outs in the sixth, tying the score 2-2 on a single to left by Justin Shafer. That knocked Radziewski out of the game.
In Sunday’s series finale, the Canes will start left-hander Andrew Suarez. Florida will start right-hander Karsten Whitson.