After winning 27 of 30 games, the red hot University of Miami baseball team came into the Atlantic Coast Conference with high aspirations. Instead of playing for an ACC title this weekend the top-seeded Hurricanes were relegated to the role of spoiler.
Losing its first two tournaments games, the Hurricanes (41-17) rebounded Saturday to keep fourth-seeded Duke from its first championship game appearance, downing the Blue Devils 6-5 in 12 innings behind Jacob Heyward’s first multi-hit game of his career.
Heyward, the younger brother of Atlanta Braves slugger Jason Heyward, had just four hits in 32 at-bats in his first season with Miami in limited action, but was inserted into the lineup against Clemson on Thursday and then went 3-for-4 against Duke, scoring the go-ahead run on a wild pitch in the 12th. Zack Collins, who also had three hits, later followed with a solo homer — his team-leading ninth — to give the Hurricanes a 6-4 lead.
“At first I hesitated a little bit because I couldn’t see where the ball was going,” Heyward said of the wild pitch. “But I listened to my coach, realized the ball was gone and I took off.”
Added Miami coach Jim Morris: “He hasn’t gotten to play a lot but he has shown me a lot since he has been in, he has gotten on base and hit the ball hard. And I know he doesn’t like talking about it but he has good genes and he’s athletic. I’m very excited the way he’s coming on.”
Miami, 14-3 this season in one-run games, now heads back to Coral Gables instead of playing Sunday at NewBridge Bank Park for its first ACC crown since 2008, awaiting word of whether it will an host NCAA Regional. The Hurricanes will be making their 42nd straight appearance in the postseason.
“We’ve had tons of one-run games,” Morris said. “It’s definitely time for a Pepto-Bismol for me. It’s amazing we’ve won most of those.”
Heyward was one of five freshmen in the lineup against Duke (33-25), a team Miami swept in a three-game series two weeks ago in Durham, but had to battle back to defeat Saturday in extra innings after ace reliever Bryan Garcia allowed a two-run homer to Chris Perez in the bottom of the ninth.
Garcia and Perez were battery mates last season at Miami Christopher Columbus High School.
“Credit our guys,” Morris said. “We could have fallen apart after that home run in the ninth inning. It’s an exciting win for us and it’s great going into the NCAAs with a win and not a loss, I can tell you that.”
Miami had allowed just nine runs in the ninth inning of 55 regular-season games, but gave up a combined four in this tournament.
“It looks like we’re going to have a nine and six seed playing for the championship,” Morris said of Georgia Tech and Maryland. “This is a great, great league — a lot of good pitching and a lot of good defense.”
Morris got another solid start from veteran Bryan Radziewski, who struck out six and scattered six hits over 5 2/3 innings, and then used four other relievers, including starter Javi Salas. The senior struck out Matt Berezo looking to end the game with runners on first and third.
“Every win is huge and we definitely didn’t want to go into the postseason losing three in a row,” Radziewski said. “We knew what was on the line today as far as national seeding. Those first two games didn’t show what kind of team we are. They were a shock for us because we ended the season so well.”
“Bryan has had a lot of big wins in his career, a lot of strikeouts in his career,” Morris said. “He has done just so much for us in a lot of big games. Today’s win is huge for me. Guys like B-Rad made this happen.”
Despite allowing the homer in the ninth, Garcia (6-4) picked up the victory.