That nation-leading, 44-year NCAA tournament streak is not over yet.
One swing of the bat on Saturday afternoon helped turn a season of heartbreak into pure joy and give the Miami Hurricanes a boost they’re convinced will carry them far into the Atlantic Coast Conference tournament — and, they hope, beyond.
With two outs and two strikes in the 10th inning of the regular-season finale, senior Edgar Michelangeli used his final career swing at Mark Light Field to loft a three-run homer for a 7-5 walk-off victory against Virginia Tech.
“What a tremendous win. Wow,’’ said UM coach Jim Morris, his eyes soon welling with tears. “So many great at-bats right there in the 10th inning to put us in our position. … It’s a combination of a lot of guys — and some magic in this ballpark.”
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The victory, which put the Canes at 29-26 overall and 16-13 in the ACC, marked the first time this year UM has won four in a row and might have saved the season. If the Canes can win the next three they would get to the ACC tournament final, which could very well be enough to earn them an at-large spot in the NCAA tournament — unless they win the league tournament and get an automatic entry.
UM has lowered its RPI to No. 47 out of 299 teams and has one of the strongest strength of schedules in the nation.
The Hokies ended their season at 23-32 overall and 9-21 in the ACC.
With the score tied 2-2 after nine innings, Virginia Tech’s Rahiem Cooper hit a three-run homer off closer Frankie Bartow to put the Hokies up 5-2 and silence some of the rowdiest fans in college baseball.
UM freshman Albert Maury came in to replace Bartow, who was consoled by Morris and others as he slowly walked to the dugout, his head so low that it hid his face. Eventual victor Maury (3-1) got the only batter he would face to fly out.
The Canes came to the plate in the bottom of the 10th with a seemingly impossible task.
No. 9 batter James Davison walked on a full count. Carl Chester followed with a double to right that sent Davison to third and the crowd of 3,039 into another frenzy. Michael Burns flew out to short right field, holding Davison at third.
Next up: senior Johnny Ruiz, who hit the two-run homer in the third inning to initially put the Canes up 2-0 before the Hokies tied it in the fifth.
Ruiz fouled off four balls before taking a 2-2 pitch against reliever Aaron McGarity and driving it to left-center to bring home Davison and Chester and make it 5-4.
After Romy Gonzalez struck out as Ruiz was stealing second, freshman Nico Baldor walked on a full count, was replaced by pinch-runner Randy Batista, and Michelangeli came to the plate.
“I was just trying to get on base,’’ Michelangeli said. “I know we were battling hard that inning. I just wanted to keep the inning rolling. I got a pitch that I could handle and I put a good swing on it.”
Unlike one of his more famous late-season homers last year, when Michelangeli became known for his seemingly pretentious bat flip, this time he let the bat drop, took off for first and didn’t stop until he was smothered by his delirious teammates and coaches.
“It is what it is,’’ Michelangeli said. “I wear my heart on my sleeve. That’s the way I play. I’m just happy we got the win.’’
Said Ruiz: “It was awesome. I’ve known Edgar my whole life, since I was 5 or 6. It was a cool moment for him and for me. It’s been a great four years here at Mark Light, and there was no better way to end it than with some magic.’’
Morris, who led UM to College World Series titles in 1999 and 2001, said this has been the toughest season of his career.
“I can’t imagine anything any better than going to Louisville and winning the [ACC] tournament and going to the NCAA tournament,’’ he said. “Because everybody is questioning us. But a lot of good things have happened late.”
The Canes earned the No. 6 seed in the 12-team ACC tourney and are in a pool with No. 3 seed Wake Forest and No. 10 Georgia Tech, against whom they’re a combined 3-3.
“We want to win the tournament,’’ Ruiz said, “and leave no question marks.”