The University of Miami would just as soon forget most of its first decade of Atlantic Coast Conference tournament performances.
Sure, the Hurricanes (40-17) captured the 2008 title, but too many times a stellar regular season has been followed by an ACC postseason letdown. This year was no exception as top-seeded Miami — 24-6 in league play during the regular season — fell to Clemson 3-2 Thursday night and was eliminated from advancing to Sunday’s title game after two consecutive losses at NewBridge Bank Park.
“This tournament was very important for us in order to get a national [NCAA] seed because we were kind of on the bubble from that perspective,” Miami coach Jim Morris said. “We needed a couple of big hits here and there to make that happen, but this is a tough league. Anybody coming into this tournament could win it, and I said that before the tournament.”
Even ace starter Chris Diaz and clutch reliever Bryan Garcia couldn’t prevent Miami from losing two in a row for the first time since March 23-24, falling to 13-17 all-time in ACC tournament play after stranding 11 runners against the Tigers (36-22).
Diaz, the Co-ACC Pitcher of the Year, struggled with his control in one of his roughest outings of what has been a brilliant season en route to a 9-0 record, walking four batters and needing 51 pitches to work out of a pair of jams in the first two innings.
Diaz then allowed a run in the third and didn’t make it out of the fifth when he surrendered a single and then hit a batter with one out. His 4 1/3 innings was his second-shortest stint of 2014, and his five walks and three wild pitches were season highs.
“It was definitely one of my toughest outings all year,” said Diaz. “I couldn’t find a feel for my fastball and was trying to make adjustments all game but nothing seemed to work. I felt good in the bullpen and I got out there and couldn’t find it.”
Garcia, sixth in the nation with 15 saves, walked the leadoff hitter to start the bottom of the ninth with the score tied, then allowed a one-out single before giving up a sharp single to right by Steve Wilkerson on the first pitch. There was no play at the plate as Clemson raced out of the dugout to celebrate and Garcia walked off the mound dejected.
Clemson managed just three extra-base hits in three losses to Miami in late April, but pinch-hitter Jon McGibbon, who hit two homers for the Tigers in the 2012 ACC tournament in Greensboro and was hitting just .197 this season, led off the sixth with a towering blast to right off reliever Cooper Hammond to tie the score 2-2.
Meanwhile, Clemson starter Daniel Gossett was dominant again against Miami, striking out eight to give him 31 in 25 1/3 career innings against the Hurricanes before giving way to reliever Clay Bates with one out in the ninth. Bates allowed a single to Dale Carey, his career-high fourth hit of the game, and then Bates’ wild pickoff throw sent Miami’s best base stealer to third. But with the Clemson infield in, Tyler Palmer grounded out and so did cleanup hitter David Thompson, stranding the potential winning run on third.
“Palmer has been clutch all year and when I got to third base I expected the same thing out of him,” said Carey, who was a combined 7 for 9 in two ACC tourney games.