The way the University of Miami has been playing, you just knew the big inning was coming — it just took a little longer this time.
Seemingly dead in the water with just three harmless singles through seven innings in its Atlantic Coast Conference baseball championship opener Wednesday,
Once again, the big hit came off the bat of David Thompson, a go-ahead, two-run single, which was followed three pitches later with a three-run homer by Garrett Kennedy.
“The guy leading the nation in RBIs is the guy you want at the plate in that situation,” Hurricanes coach Jim Morris said of Thompson, who has now driven in 80 runs.
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Thompson admitted he was out in front on a few pitches during his crucial at-bat before taking the 1-2 pitch into left field.
“I had two strikes on me, so I was just trying to put the ball into play,” Thompson said.
“I was still out in front of the ball I hit. I just kept my hands back and struck my butt out, and poked it over the shortstop’s head.”
The eighth-ranked and second-seeded Hurricanes had averaged more than 14 runs during their torrid three-week winning streak leading up to the ACC tournament.
But UM (43-13) was struggling at the plate against Virginia starter and ace Connor Jones and trailed 5-2 at Durham Bulls Athletic Park.
The Virginia lead came via a three-run homer in the sixth from Kenny Towns. And two more runs two innings later had UM on the ropes.
Jones had seven strikeouts in 7 1/3 innings on the heels of an 11-strikeout performance against the Hurricanes a month ago.
But with one out and two runners on in the eighth, Virginia coach Brian O’Connor decided to put in a reliever.
The move proved disastrous for the Cavaliers (34-20) as UM got to the Virginia bullpen, while an error proved costly in the big inning.
“We were very excited when he came out of the game,” Thompson said of the exit of Jones, who was also 2-0 against the Hurricanes last season.
“I expected this game to be a 3-2 or 2-1 game,” Morris said.
“Connor has great stuff — as good as anybody in the league. We were fortunate to get hot in the eighth inning.”
Morris gathered his club in the dugout before heading to the plate in the explosive eighth inning for a much-needed pep talk.
“After Virginia hit that three-run homer our bench went dead, acting like we couldn’t score any runs,” Morris said. “I just reminded them that we’ve been scoring a lot of runs in the last month.”
“It doesn’t get any better than that,” added Thompson of the seven-run inning.
“Coach Morris told us we just needed to stay confident, positive and have some fun. That’s what we did.”
UM, which is now 23-4 over its past 27 games, has Thursday off before taking on North Carolina State (31-20) on Friday night, and then Notre Dame (35-19) on Saturday afternoon.
If the Hurricanes advance through Pool B, they will play Sunday afternoon for their first ACC championship since 2008.
“It was a big effort by a lot of guys,” Morris said. “That is what has enabled us to win 13 straight games.”
UM closer Bryan Garcia (5-2) picked up the victory with 1 1/3 innings of relief.
“Certainly the end of that ballgame was difficult and frustrating,” O’Connor said.
“We were hoping we could put them away, but we just couldn’t do it. Credit them; they battled. We had one out and nobody on in the eighth inning, and they found a way to score seven runs.”