For the better part of two months, Miami has played nearly invincible baseball and been dominant in close games. The top-seeded Hurricanes were neither Wednesday, and lost 6-3 to Georgia Tech in their opening game of the 2014 Atlantic Coast Conference tournament.
Since losing five of seven in mid-March, the Hurricanes (40-16) had gone a remarkable 27-3 — and 14-2 in one-run games — but couldn’t hold a 3-1 lead late against the ninth-seeded Yellow Jackets (34-24) to become just the second No. 1 seed in the past 29 ACC tournaments to lose its first game.
Miami starter Andrew Suarez was coming off his worst outing of the season last week against North Carolina, allowing seven earned runs in two innings, but was cruising in this one until his throwing error on a sacrifice bunt in the top of the seventh got Georgia Tech back in the game.
“The way things have been going lately, I felt really good when we jumped up 3-1 and Andy was throwing outstanding, and our bullpen has been great all year,” UM coach Jim Morris said. “You have to be feeling good with that and the defense that we play. But baseball is a game where you have to play nine innings, there is no clock to run out. You have to play it to the end.”
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Added Morris: “Fielding a bunt got us in trouble. That [error] kind of got us out of rhythm and he didn’t locate a few pitches he should have and just back-to-back things happened.”
After tying the score at 3 after the Suarez error, Georgia Tech touched a normally reliable Miami bullpen for two more runs in the eighth and a solo run in the ninth to give the Yellow Jackets their third victory over the Hurricanes in four games this season.
Josh Heddinger (4-4) gave up seven hits in seven innings for Georgia Tech.
“I just tried to keep us in the game, go out there and throw strikes,” Heddinger said. “After we played them early in the year we knew they were a really good team and I had to make quality pitches down in the zone.”
The early tournament loss damages Miami’s attempt to win its first ACC championship since 2008 and drops the program’s ACC tournament record to 13-16 all-time in 10 seasons — a perplexing record for one of the nation’s elite college baseball programs.
Dale Carey was one of the bright spots for the Hurricanes, going 3 for 4 with a homer and two stolen bases. His performance Wednesday pushed his season totals against Georgia Tech to 8 for 18 with eight runs scored.
“Losing the first game of the tournament is obviously something we don’t want to do, but we’ve been hot lately, so just because we dropped one game doesn’t mean we can’t start another streak,” Carey said. “That’s what we’re planning on doing.”
Brandon Gold’s two-run single past a diving Alex Hernandez on a two-out, 3-2 pitch off Miami freshman reliever Cooper Hammond (5-1) proved to be the winning hit as Georgia Tech touched Hurricanes pitching for 14 hits.
“He has an ERA under 2.00; he just didn’t have his best outing,” Morris said of Hammond, who allowed three hits and one walk in 1 2/3 innings. “If the same situation comes up Thursday then he’ll be pitching again I can tell you that. He’s had a very good season.”
Miami appeared to be staging some of its late-game magic yet again in the bottom of the inning, but Brandon Lopez grounded into a sharp, inning-ending double play with runners on first and third, ending a threat against senior reliever Dusty Isaacs, who pitched two scoreless innings in a 3-2, 10-inning Georgia Tech win over Miami on March 15.
“They got some hits when it counted and we didn’t,” Morris said. “We were 22-5 [in the ACC] so nothing concerns me.”