Next stop: Omaha, Nebraska.
With chants of “OMAHA!” pulsing through Mark Light Field and joyous bodies piling near the pitcher’s mound, the four-time national champion Miami Hurricanes earned their first berth in the College World Series since 2008 by defeating Virginia Commonwealth 10-3 Saturday.
Thanks to a gritty, walk-on Miami-grad-student-turned-pitching-hero named Sam Abrams, a manufactured run and late outburst from an offensive powerhouse that couldn’t connect for the middle three innings, the Hurricanes’ dream of a fifth national title is firmly in hand.
“Just wow,’’ said a happy but emotionally spent coach Jim Morris, who will bring his Canes (49-15) to “the promised land” for the 12th time in his 22 seasons at UM. “It’s been a long time since we’ve been to Omaha, so, needless to say, we’re very excited. Our players don’t know what’s getting ready to hit them.”
The super regional victory assured the Hurricanes of meeting the Florida Gators, who defeated Florida State on Saturday, in the College World Series opener on June 13.
This will be the 24th College World Series appearance for UM, which won titles in 1982, ’85, ’99 and ’01.
“It’s very special,” Morris said, “because I got spoiled just like our fans and everybody else in this program. It’s a tough, tough thing to do.’’
VCU coach Shawn Stiffler, like the others at the postgame super regional news conference, was effusive about Abrams, who earned his second career win by allowing one hit and no runs or walks in a career-high four innings of relief.
“It sure was a turning point in the game,” Stiffler said. “He did a fabulous job. He just had the guys fooled.’’
Abrams, a slightly built 175-pound right-handed sidewinder who has never earned a dollar of baseball scholarship money and had pitched a combined 14 innings before this year, replaced struggling lefty Thomas Woodrey with no outs and bases loaded in the bottom of the third.
With most of the 3,680 crazed fans on their feet, the Miami native struck out the first two batters using his slow-moving throws that fluctuate from “the high 60s” for his slider to the high 70s for his “fastball.” He got the last batter in the third to fly out to right field.
“It hurts — especially when you have no outs and you figure all you have to do is put a couple balls in play and you score a run,” said VCU center fielder Logan Farrar, who hit a leadoff homer in the first inning. “I think the change of speed was the biggest thing.’’
Abrams, 23, was cut during tryouts before his sophomore season and almost quit baseball in frustration. Instead, he earned his master’s degree in accounting — and a trip to Omaha, to boot.
“We’re all so pumped for what he did [Saturday],’’ David Thompson, the nation’s RBI leader (87), said of Abrams. “He was the reason we won this game [Saturday].’’
With the score tied at 3, UM went ahead 4-3 in the fourth when Jacob Heyward reached on a fielder’s choice, stole second, stole third and scored the decisive run on a passed ball — roaring with emotion after he scored.
Miami added five runs in the seventh to turn what had been a nail-biter into a romp. And Willie Abreu’s solo blast in the ninth, which reignited the “OMAHA!’’ chants, finished off the Rams, who ended their season at 40-25.
Every one of UM’s starters scored, with Thompson and Abreu registering two RBI apiece. Abreu, Chris Barr and George Iskenderian each got two hits.
Reliever Michael Mediavilla pitched two scoreless innings, and Bryan Garcia closed out the victory.
After the final out and initial pileup, Abreu, a lifelong Canes fan from Hialeah, ran toward the fans behind home plate and raised his arms repeatedly in jubilation.
“The fans are everything to us,” Abreu said. “We play for them, as well as our teammates. The endless support and endless love we get from all of our fans, that’s just something real special. I’m sure you’re going to see plenty of UM fans in Omaha.”