University of Miami

UCF doesn’t help Miami’s postseason chances with Wednesday’s win at Mark Light

University of Miami catcher — and now current UCF coach — Greg Lovelady emerges from the smoke at Miami’s 1999 national championship ceremony at Mark Light Stadium.
University of Miami catcher — and now current UCF coach — Greg Lovelady emerges from the smoke at Miami’s 1999 national championship ceremony at Mark Light Stadium. Miami Herald Staff

He heard the ping of bat meeting ball and sprinted toward the left-field wall. But James Davison’s sprint soon turned to a jog, which turned to a full stop.

He stood still and watched the ball sail over the fence, and as it turned out it carried the game — and possibly the Miami baseball team’s postseason hopes — with it.

The two-run homer came from UCF’s Eli Putnam during the first inning of Wednesday night’s game in Coral Gables, and it was enough to propel the Knights to a 5-2 victory over the Hurricanes.

The loss sent Miami (24-24) back to a .500 record, further eroding its chances of reaching an NCAA regional.

The Knights, meanwhile, improved to 34-15.

“It was frustrating,” UM coach Jim Morris said. “No question about it.”

Miami has made the NCAA tournament for a record 44 consecutive years, but with seven games left before the ACC tournament, that streak is in jeopardy.

The Hurricanes need to finish above .500 in Division I play to be considered for an at-large spot in the 64-team field, and even then the odds of being picked are small.

UM could also qualify for a regional by winning the Atlantic Coast Conference tournament, but that will be difficult with five ACC teams — including No. 2 Louisville and No. 3 North Carolina — ranked in the Top 25.

“There’s a lot of pressure on our club right now,” Morris said. “If I thought otherwise, that wouldn’t be very smart.”

But before missed opportunities doomed his team, Morris was beaming while meeting with UCF coach Greg Lovelady at home plate.

Lovelady, who is in his first year at UCF, played for Morris at UM from 1998-2001, helping the Hurricanes win two national championships as a starting catcher.

He playfully slapped away Morris’ handshake before embracing his former skipper during their gathering with umpires before the game.

“We were kind of joking,” Morris said. “[He’s] one of my favorite guys.”

That was as happy as Morris got though.

His team left 12 runners on base, with the most pronounced examples of wasted chances coming in the eighth inning.

The Hurricanes had runners on the corners with no outs when Nico Baldor stepped to the plate. He struck out swinging.

UM did manage to avoid the shutout on a Carl Chester RBI single, but a pair of popups ended the threat.

A similar situation occurred in the fourth inning when, following a wild pitch, Miami had runners on second and third with no outs.

Catcher Joe Gomez struck out looking. Third baseman Edgar Michelangeli struck out swinging. And Davison sliced a ball down the left-field line, hooking it foul by several inches and forcing the small crowd into an audible “awww.”

Then he flew out.

There was also the the second inning, when Chester singled to lead off the frame. Before his teammates had a chance to push him around the bases, he took off for second on a ball that was knocked down by UCF catcher Logan Heiser.

Heiser threw out a sliding Chester, who laid on the dirt in disbelief before getting up coated in wet clay to trot to the dugout.

And, finally, there was the ninth inning, when UM sent the tying run to the plate only to end the game with a strikeout.

“We’ve just gotta come up clutch,” Chester said.

On the mound, Miami sent out freshman Evan McKendry, who was largely effective. However, he was the victim of the very area where his team failed: timely hitting.

While the Knights notched just five hits off UM’s starter, two of them were home runs. Aside from those two swings, McKendry struck out seven and walked one.

“I thought Evan threw good tonight,” Morris said.

The 24th-year coach added that despite another setback he’s confident his team can win moving forward. And with seven regular-season games remaining, he’s hoping that starts when UM opens a weekend series against No. 13 Virginia on the road on Friday at 6 p.m.

“We’ve just gotta play every game like it’s our last game,” he said. “[And] understand we still have a shot until the end.”