Jesse Lepore produced a sparkling 8-0 record as the University of Miami’s mid-week starter but had not been handed the ball for any Atlantic Coast Conference games this season. That was until Wednesday in UM’s opening game at the 2016 ACC Baseball Championship.
The sophomore right-handed didn’t disappoint, working six shutout innings before a tight shoulder and fatigue after two pitches in the seventh forced him off the mound and toward a standing ovation from the small Hurricanes fan base in a 4-0 victory over Georgia Tech.
The top-seeded and fourth-ranked Hurricanes (44-10) put up three runs in the bottom of the first inning to get some immediate breathing room, but a team that had scored at least eight runs in nine of its previous 15 games didn’t perform at the plate in this one.
That’s what made Lepore’s stellar effort on the hill even more important, lowering his ERA to an even 2.00 — best among Miami’s starters. Lepore changed speeds and hit his spots to silence a power-hitting lineup that has produced an ACC-best 62 home runs.
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Lepore had ice packs on his elbow and shoulder during the postgame interviews but said he was fine when asked if he was ready for his next start.
“I was definitely excited coming into this game,” said Lepore, who scattered three hits over his six innings, requiring just 77 pitches. “I felt like I had a lot to prove, not only to everyone else but to myself as well. I had a good year during the regular season and it was good to keep it going in the postseason.”
When asked if Lepore did enough to get the ball again soon, UM coach Jim Morris didn’t pull any punches.
“Definitely — there’s no question he’ll pitch next week,” Morris said, referring to the NCAA tournament. “He really stepped it up a notch today. I’m very excited for him, the fact that he won his first ACC game against a team that can really swing the bats very aggressive. They are big, strong guys who can hit.”
The combined shutout of Lepore, Frankie Bartow (two innings) and Bryan Garcia (one inning), who allowed five hits, was Miami’s first shutout in five weeks. Meanwhile, Georgia Tech (36-21) hadn’t been blanked in a game since an 8-0 loss at North Carolina on March 26.
“We just couldn’t square up on Lepore,” Georgia Tech coach Danny Hall said. “And it’s hard to score on Miami late. Bartow is really good, and Garcia has been a great pitcher in our league for three years running now.”
Miami did get some breathing room late when Zack Collins hit his team-leading 12th homer to the opposite field in the bottom of the eighth. The UM catcher also scored two of his team’s four runs.
And, of course, he spent the game looking at a lot of pitches out of the strike zone, walking once for his nation-leading 63rd base on balls this season and 160th of his career.
“No, I haven’t gotten frustrated,” Collins said, when asked about getting pitched around. “I’ve walked a lot in my first two years here, too, and throughout high school. I have kind of gotten used to it.”
“He’s a lot better at it than I am,” Morris said.
The only Miami player with two hits was Johnny Ruiz, who had two doubles.
Miami, which will play North Carolina State on Thursday night, improved to a remarkable 30-1 when scoring first and 39-0 when leading after six innings.