Miami Hurricanes baseball on a torrid pace after slow start

UM has overcome a slow start, and the Canes (32-13) are now the hottest team in the nation, having won 19 of their past 20 games.

05/01/2014 8:58 PM

08/10/2014 10:55 PM

Tyler Palmer, Willie Abreu and Zack Collins say they knew all along that this year’s Hurricanes baseball team was a winner.

It just took a little while for reality to catch up to talent.

The three, who hit for a composite .472 at Clemson last weekend as the Nos. 2, 3 and 4 batters in the lineup, are part of a Hurricanes contingent that has kept Miami the hottest team in the nation since late March.

Evidence:

The Canes (32-13 overall), in first place in the Atlantic Coast Conference (19-5), are 19-1 in their past 20 games.

UM, ranked as high as fourth by Collegiate Baseball and 10th by Baseball America, has the nation’s longest road-winning streak of 12 games.

UM is 11-1 in one-run games this season.

Miami’s starting rotation of left-handers Chris Diaz (7-0), Andrew Suarez (4-2) and Bryan Radziewski (4-2) have combined to allow only 25 earned runs in their past 15 starts.

Freshman closer Bryan Garcia has 13 saves and a 1.98 ERA.

“It’s crazy, right?” said outfielder/designated hitter Abreu, one of several freshmen who are contributing to the resurgence of a program that has four national titles but has not been to Omaha, Neb., for the College World Series since 2008. “Like I said in the beginning of the year, we just had to get used to playing with each other.

“Now we’re rolling, and it feels great.”

Like most of 2013, the Hurricanes, who host Alabama State (33-17) at 7 p.m. Friday in the opener of a weekend series, started the season with poor fielding. They are now fourth of 14 teams in the ACC in fielding percentage.

UM’s RPI is 19th of 302 Division I baseball teams. The Canes are third in the league in RBI, third in sacrifice bunts, fourth in triples and doubles and third in runs scored per game.

And no one has been on a more torrid pace at the plate than Abreu’s best friend, freshman catcher Zack Collins, named the ACC Player of the Week on Monday.

Collins led Miami last week with 10 hits, a home run and nine RBI. He began the season hitting .037 (1 for 27) and now leads all full-time active UM players with a .306 average. He has a team-high seven home runs, is second in the ACC with a .563 slugging percentage and tied for third with 39 RBI.

Talk about turnarounds.

“It’s an amazing honor, knowing where I started,” said the 6-3, 220-pound Collins, who was drafted last year in the 27th round by the Cincinnati Reds. “I was getting under the ball in the beginning of the season and trying too much to hit home runs, trying to play toward everybody else’s expectations.

“I’m really happy with my decision to come to UM. It is extremely fun to play here.”

Palmer, a senior left fielder hitting .289, leads the league in sacrifice bunts with 15 and is tied for fifth with 15 stolen bases. He said the difference in the past six weeks has been that “almost everybody is playing well at the same time. Willie [.302] and Zack have heated up, we’re scoring a lot of runs, and the defense and pitching have done a great job.”

Palmer said that when the Canes were 13-12 before their winning streak began March 26, “everybody else was saying, ‘What the heck?’ But we never panicked.

“The 11-1 in one-run games is huge, because you have to learn how to win those tight games, especially getting close to the postseason. We’ve shown we can win close games, we can blow teams out, and we can come from behind.”

UM has 10 more games before the ACC tournament is played May 20-25 in Greensboro, N.C. The NCAA tournament begins May 30.

• UM coach Jim Morris said Thursday that infielder David Thompson, who underwent surgery March 24 for Venous Thoracic Outlet Syndrome, has started fielding ground balls and is “hitting in the cages.” Doctors have not cleared him to play.

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