University of Miami

Johnny Ruiz sparks UM baseball rally in opening win against Rutgers

Ricky Eusebio scores in the first inning on a hit by Willie Abreu as the University of Miami hosts Rutgers at Mark Light Field on Friday, Feb. 13, 2015.
Ricky Eusebio scores in the first inning on a hit by Willie Abreu as the University of Miami hosts Rutgers at Mark Light Field on Friday, Feb. 13, 2015. MIAMI HERALD STAFF

The ninth-ranked Miami Hurricanes had their second-round ace on the mound at Mark Light Field and a lineup expected to add some oomph to the offense on opening night.

The unranked Scarlet Knights of Rutgers had lost their past seven games to UM and left Piscataway, New Jersey, with plenty of snow on the ground in bitter-cold temperatures.

But the Canes struggled offensively, Rutgers’ starter excelled and until sophomore Johnny Ruiz’s eighth-inning single scored two and put Miami up 4-2 on its way to a 5-2 victory, it was anyone’s guess who would leave happy.

With two outs in the eighth Friday, freshman Carl Chester pounded his first hit, first double and first RBI all wrapped in one to give UM its final run in front of 2,628 fans.

“It didn’t start off too great,” said second baseman Ruiz, a Miami Westminster Christian graduate who also had an RBI groundout in the sixth to score David Thompson (hit by pitch) and make it 2-2. “I struck out twice. But I just persevered. My teammates told me, ‘Keep going. Have confidence in yourself.’

“We fought to the end, and we came back and played well in the end to win.”

Bryan Garcia, a freshman All-American last season, threw 11 pitches to close out the game for UM in the ninth.

The Canes used five pitchers, with Cooper Hammond going two-thirds of an inning for the victory.

UM starter Andy Suarez, the lefty who returned to school after being drafted in the second round by the Washington Nationals and turning down nearly $1 million, lasted five innings, allowing two earned runs on eight hits and two walks. He struck out three and committed one error in the fourth inning.

“I didn’t have my stuff,” the redshirt junior said. “My ball was going everywhere, but I just kept battling. Pretty much nothing was working. My fastball was moving a lot, so I ended up throwing it down the middle, and that’s how they got all those hits.”

Suarez said he wasn’t nervous and didn’t feel pressure, but he “was too amped up and too serious out there. I wasn’t playing like myself.”

Rutgers left-handed starter Howie Brey had a career-high nine strikeouts in six innings. He allowed two runs — only one earned — on four hits and three walks in 107 pitches.

UM scored the game’s first run in the opening inning when Ricky Eusebio hit his first career triple and dashed home on an infield error.

Miami coach Jim Morris believes Suarez did feel pressure because of the attention of his unexpected return to college.

“He wants to win every game, and he wants to give up no runs, and he wants to do the best he can possibly do,” Morris said. “He’s just got to relax and pitch.”

Morris acknowledged that UM, which finished with seven hits, “didn’t hit early,” but gave credit to Brey. “We got most of our hits late and played better in the game late. I thought we were pressing a little bit early in maybe all phases of the game.”

One piece of trivia: It was the first opening day Friday the 13th victory in February in UM history — of only three such openers.

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