When Edgar Michelangeli stepped up to bat on Saturday, there was pressure. So much pressure. There was the pressure of the players from Miami’s past. The teams of its past. And, more than anything, the success of its past.
Miami baseball is always successful. The program hasn’t missed qualifying for the NCAA tournament in a record 44 years. So for Michelangeli, a redshirt senior, at-bats like the one he faced on Sunday are rare for Hurricanes hitters in the regular season.
Nevertheless, there he stood with runners on base, his team trailing and needing a run to save its chances at an at-large bid to the 2017 tournament.
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The ball sailed over the fence, giving the Hurricanes their first three-game sweep of 2017.
“A lot of us were just a little sick and tired of losing,” senior shortstop Johnny Ruiz said. “So we kind of took it upon ourselves.”
That’s been the attitude for Ruiz and his fellow upperclassmen late this season. To do it themselves. And it showed this weekend against Virginia Tech.
Of Miami’s 13 RBIs in the series, 10 were driven in by seniors. Of Miami’s 226 RBIs this season, more than half were driven in by seniors and redshirt juniors.
With an absence of star power that’s been present in years past, it’s that group that’s propelled the Hurricanes to a four-game win streak — their first of the year — to close the 2017 regular season.
But at the beginning of the season, that group couldn’t carry the load.
“We’re pretty much an average team if you look at us talent-wise,” Michelangeli said. “So from the start, we weren’t really clicking.”
Ruiz said the struggles started when the team traveled to Gainesville to take on Florida in its second series of 2017. The Hurricanes were swept by the Gators. It was the first time Miami had been swept since 2012.
“I had never been swept in my career at UM,” Ruiz said, “so it was definitely a low for me.”
Things didn’t get much better until near the end. Until now.
Riding a four-game win streak, the Hurricanes (29-26) will face Georgia Tech in the first game of the Atlantic Coast Conference tournament on Tuesday at 11 a.m. in Louisville. The sixth-seeded Hurricanes likely need to win against the Yellow Jackets — and on Thursday when they face third-seeded Wake Forest — to extend their tournament streak to 45 years. And that still may not be enough.
Last season, the team with the worst record to receive an at-large bid was Wake Forest, which was 34-25. If the Hurricanes win every ACC tournament game aside from the championship, they’ll be 32-26.
Miami can guarantee itself a spot in the NCAA Tournament if it wins the ACC tournament, though it’ll have to get through five top-25 teams to do that.
“We’re not trying to put too much pressure on ourselves,” Michelangeli said. “We’re just trying to play baseball and not worry about the streak and not worry about all the other stuff that could happen.”
But Michelangeli admits the streak comes up in conversation with his teammates. Early in the year, so did talk of players recently drafted out of UM. Players like Zack Collins and Willie Abreu.
“Starting the season, we were pretty much trying to become the team that we were,” Michelangeli said. “As of late, we’ve been trying to brush that off.”
Ruiz said that’s for good reason. This isn’t the team it was a season ago when it advanced to the College World Series. That team was hot from the beginning and full of stars. This team hardly got hot at all.
But it’s hot at the right time. And to Ruiz, that’s what matters.
“On some of the other teams I had been on, we kind of played our best baseball toward the middle of the season,” Ruiz said. “Not really now towards the end and the playoffs. So maybe it’ll work out a little better for us this year.”