In a spectacular college pitcher’s duel Saturday night at Alex Rodriguez Park, it was a freshman hitting .150 who made the loudest roar.
Zack Collins, a 6-3, 220-pounder who chose to become a Miami Hurricane after being drafted by the Cincinnati Reds out of Plantation American Heritage, blasted a 2-0 fastball over the right-field fence in the sixth inning for a two-run shot that put UM ahead for good.
The No. 25 Canes, losers of five of their past seven games heading into Saturday, impersonated a major-league team with their best all-around performance of the season in defeating No. 3 Virginia 7-1.
“It’s an amazing feeling every time you hit a home run,” said Collins, who has struggled at the plate. “For a guy to be out there and pitching his butt off trying to win this game, he’s out there for six innings and we haven’t scored a run. To pick him up like that, it felt amazing.”
The Canes (13-10, 5-2 Atlantic Coast Conference) not only gave stellar Virginia starter Nathan Kirby — 5-0 with a 0.59 ERA coming into Saturday — his first loss, they played exceptional defense in support of equally impressive UM starter Chris Diaz.
Diaz allowed five hits and one earned run against UVA (17-4, 5-2) in 7 1/3 innings as he raised his record to 5-0 in his second victory against a No. 3 team this season — the first one coming Feb. 28 at Florida State.
Kirby gave up three earned runs on five hits and two walks in 6 2/3 innings.
The Hurricanes had three amazing defensive plays during a flawless defensive night, highlighted by center fielder Dale Carey’s running and diving grab at the warning track with Cavaliers on first and second in the eighth inning.
Cavaliers’ cleanup hitter Nick Howard hit the shot to right-center, Carey sprinted diagonally toward the fence, extended his left arm as far as it could go and ended up parallel to the ground as he caught the ball.
“He hit it, I was running and at the last second I realized that I had a chance to maybe dive and catch it,” Carey said. “I just laid out and it ended up in my glove. I was amazed.”
Right fielder Willie Abreu, who tied the game at 1-1 with an RBI groundout before Collins’ homer, hoisted Carey off the ground in celebration.
The other amazing plays included a pickup of Howard’s hard chopper by second baseman Alex Hernandez in the sixth inning. Off balance, Hernandez spun around and whipped the ball to first baseman Frad Fieger, but Howard just beat it out and Virginia scored its lone run of the game.
Freshman Bryan Garcia relieved Diaz — who made another amazing defensive play in fielding a bunt — in the eighth inning and earned his sixth save for the Canes.
It was the 900th win at Miami for Jim Morris.
“We played exceptional defense and got really good pitching,” Morris said. “Collins has been swinging the bat, and Dale Carey, that catch might be the best catch I’ve ever seen. Unbelievable catch. If that ball drops the game is tied.”
UM added four runs in the eighth inning on a bases-load walk to Johnny Ruiz, a two-run double by Brandon Lopez and a sacrifice fly by Garrett Kennedy to seal the victory.
It was Virginia’s most lopsided loss of the season.
The teams meet again at 7 p.m. Sunday.