Zack Collins’ jersey number and batting average were identical – zero – when the freshman from Pembroke Pines crushed the game-winning, three-run homer Feb. 22 against the Florida Gators.
After going hitless in 17 at-bats as a Miami Hurricane, Collins had his first moment of collegiate glory, but would resume the drought for the next nine at-bats, bringing his average to .037.
On Monday, Collins, hitting .285 with eight home runs, 46 RBI and a .520 slugging percentage, was named the Atlantic Coast Conference Freshman of the Year.
His teammate, left-handed junior ace Chris Diaz (9-0, 2.32 ERA) of Florida City, earned another major award: ACC Co-Pitcher of the Year along with Nathan Kirby (8-1, 1.58) of Virginia.
“We’re trying to get this program back to Omaha for the College World Series,” said Diaz, 20, a Gulliver Prep alum who has not lost a game he started since his last birthday on May 24, 2013. “It has been a while, and we think it’s time to go back and get a ring.”
Collins and Diaz were the first UM recipients of their respective awards since pitcher Chris Hernandez was named the ACC Freshman of the Year in 2008, and pitcher Cesar Carrillo was named ACC Pitcher of the Year in 2005.
“It’s an awesome feeling,” said Collins, 19, a Plantation American Heritage graduate. “Obviously when you have that start and you’re really struggling at the beginning of your freshman year there are things going through your mind – is it the college pitching or is it you? I just kept doing my best and knew it would come one day.
“It’s almost like a fairy-tale ending to the regular season to get these awards when you start like I did. Now it’s time to win the ACC Tournament, get a national seed and go to Omaha and win a national championship.”
The Hurricanes (40-15, 24-6 ACC) – ranked as high as third by Collegiate Baseball, sixth by Baseball America and 11th in the USA Today coaches’ poll – are preparing to open the Atlantic Coast Conference tournament at 3 p.m. Wednesday against the winner of Tuesday’s Georgia Tech (32-24, 14-16) vs. Wake Forest (30-25, 15-15) game.
The tournament, at NewBridge Bank Park in Greensboro, N.C., uses a round-robin format, with the winner of Pool A (No. 1 seed Canes, No. 4 Duke, No. 5 Clemson and winner of Georgia Tech-Wake) facing the winner of Pool B (No. 2 seed FSU, No. 3 Virginia, No. 6 Maryland and the winner of Tuesday’s North Carolina-NC State game) for the ACC championship at 1 p.m. Sunday.
UM won national titles in 1982, ’85, ’99 and ’01, but hasn’t been to Omaha since 2008. The Canes started 13-12 and have won 27 of their past 30 games to become the hottest team in college baseball, but their RPI as of Monday was 12th. A decent showing in the ACC tourney would help their chances of being named one of eight national seeds for the NCAA baseball tournament that begins with the regionals May 30.
National seeds are guaranteed to host the second round of the tournament – the super regionals – if they win the first round. UM is expected to be named a regional host next Monday.
“I don’t think there’s any question that [the ACC tournament] is very, very important, because we’re kind of on the bubble for a national seed,” Morris said Monday.
In addition to Collins’ and Diaz’s honors Monday, FSU’s D.J. Stewart (.362, 47 RBI, .588 slugging) won ACC Player of the Year.
Brian O’Connor, coach of Virginia (43-11, 22-8) won ACC Coach of the Year.
ACC coaches vote for the honorees, but are not allowed to vote for their own players.
The ACC also announced its All-ACC teams Monday.
UM’s Diaz was the only player to make the first team, with outfielder Dale Carey (.295), starting pitcher Bryan Radziewski (7-2, 3.14) and closer Bryan Garcia earning second-team honors.
Collins, outfielder Willie Abreu (.299) and pitcher Andrew Suarez (5-3, 3.15) made third-team All-ACC.