Last time Miami faced Florida Atlantic on the baseball diamond, the Owls defeated the top-ranked Hurricanes by a run, holding Miami to three runs on five hits.
Thursday night at Mark Light Field, the Hurricanes (34-8) scored three runs on five hits in the first inning.
Those three first-inning runs were enough support for starter Jesse Lepore, who matched a career-high by hurling seven innings in the Hurricanes’ 5-2 victory over FAU (30-13).
Lepore, who improved to 6-0 on the season with the victory, scattered four hits and two earned runs across his seven frames. He struck out six, walked only one, and set down nine Owls in a row at one point.
“We came in with a chip on our shoulder,” Lepore, who was making his first start since the Hurricanes’ loss to FAU two weeks ago, said.
Lepore said, “every team, every approach is the same,” before adding that he has a different relationship with some of the in-state Owls. “Friends off the field, enemies on the field,” Lepore said. “Once they’re in the box, it’s just competing.”
The Hurricanes’ offense started its first-inning rally with a pair of infield singles. Carl Chester led off with an infield knock that FAU second baseman Stephen Kerr did well to keep on the dirt, then Christopher Barr delivered a bunt single down the third-base line. Brandon Lopez plated Chester with a base hit to right, and Johnny Ruiz scored Barr with a single to left.
Lopez was one of three Hurricanes to walk in the University’s graduation ceremony earlier Thursday. Miami coach Jim Morris said the pre-game absence of Lopez, along with first baseman Christopher Barr and starting pitcher Thomas Woodrey, made for an unusual pre-game.
“They didn’t get to the park until 25 ‘til 6,” Morris said of the three graduates. “They didn’t hit, they didn’t take infield-outfield, they came in and ate something real quick and played a game.”
Lepore exited the game after the top of the seventh with a 3-2 lead, and the Miami offense went back to work in the bottom of the frame. Three Hurricanes’ walks loaded the bases before Ruiz singled in Chester and Jacob Heyward beat out a fielder’s choice to allow Zack Collins to score the fifth Miami run.
Ruiz finished the evening with two hits and two RBI, while Chester scored twice to bring his team-leading total to 42 runs.
Saddled with a pair of insurance runs, the Hurricanes’ bullpen sealed the victory. Frankie Bartow worked the eighth and Bryan Garcia pitched the ninth to earn his 11th save of the season and the 36th of his career. Garcia is one save shy of Rick Raether for second on the Hurricanes’ all-time saves list.
Miami heads to coach Morris’ former employer, Georgia Tech, for a three-game weekend series. The series will run Saturday through Monday, before the Hurricanes head home for a Tuesday night game against Bethune-Cookman.
“It’s fun going back to Georgia Tech,” Morris said. “I like going back there…but it doesn’t seem like home to me. Miami’s my home now… I’ve been here 23 years. It seems like an awfully long time since I lived in Atlanta.”
This weekend’s series will also be a homecoming for left fielder Jacob Heyward, who was raised in nearby McDonough. Heyward’s older brother Jason manned right field for the hometown Braves for several years.