Sunshine and blue skies returned to Coral Gables and University of Miami baseball on Saturday, and so did winning normally.
That meant not needing five hours — or 16 innings — to earn a victory, as in Friday’s front end of a doubleheader.
And in the regular-season home finale, that meant clinching the No. 1 seed for the Atlantic Coast Conference tournament with a 2-0 victory against North Carolina and claiming the regular-season ACC title.
That also meant reaching 40 victories in the regular season for the first time since 2008.
“I’d like to congratulate our players and coaches,” UM coach Jim Morris said of his Coastal Division champions. “Our guys have worked very hard and stuck together as a team and taken up for each other and made plays when we needed to. It’s very exciting to win the regular-season championship, and hopefully that will be the start to some great things.”
Miami, 40-15 overall, finished 24-6 in the conference — with nine more ACC victories than in 2013. The last time UM reached 40 wins in a regular season was when the Canes finished 53-11, winning one but losing two in the College World Series.
No ACC team has a better league record than seventh-ranked Miami’s, including top-ranked Virginia, which finished second in the Coastal but will be the No. 3 seed in the league tournament because FSU earned the No. 2 seed as the Atlantic Division champion.
The 24 wins are the most by any ACC team in a single season, tied with Clemson (2006) and Florida State (2008 and 2012).
The ACC does not formally recognize a regular-season league champion, but the Hurricanes surely did Saturday when they joyously gathered near the pitcher’s mound as the game ended, then changed into white T-shirts that read, “2014 ACC Regular Season Champions.”
Saturday’s heroes at Alex Rodriguez Park were first baseman David Thompson, who made his return this weekend after missing 32 games because of major surgery to alleviate a blood clot caused by thoracic outlet syndrome; and the UM pitching staff, led by senior starter Bryan Radziewski’s six shutout innings — with Cooper Hammond chipping in 1 2/3 innings and freshman Bryan Garcia earning his 15th save.
Thompson (2 for 4) singled to drive in a run in the first, then executed a perfect slide in the fourth to score the other run by knocking the ball out of UNC catcher Korey Dunbar’s glove after an equally beautiful throw by center fielder Skye Bolt.
“Like they teach us here, slide late and slide hard, and that’s what I did. I put my cleat right on his glove and knocked the ball out,” Thompson said.
Thompson said he felt “great’’ physically. “Definitely a little sore, but nothing to worry about. There were a lot of emotions out there. I was super nervous, especially that first game [Friday]. It was so amazing to be back out there, such a blessing. God is good all the time, even in the lows.”
UM has won 27 of its past 30 games. The Tar Heels fell to 32-23 and 15-15 in the ACC.
“I’ve been here for four years and to accomplish something like this, I can’t describe the feeling,” said Radziewski (7-2, 3.14 ERA), who struck out two batters after giving up three singles to load the bases in the fifth. “We’ve been here a lot of hours [this weekend], but it was well worth it.’’
UM heads to the ACC round-robin tournament that begins Tuesday. The Canes will play their first game either Wednesday or Thursday — they have their choice as the No. 1 seed — and will be in the opposite bracket from Virginia and FSU.
Though it isn’t official, the Canes will almost certainly host an NCAA regional beginning May 30, and are in good position to earn one of eight national seeds, especially if they have a decent showing in the ACC tourney.
“We’re not done yet,’’ senior Tyler Palmer said. “We have to stay hungry. There is history in this program, and we want to make it back to Omaha.”