The Miami Hurricanes repeat the same mantra daily: “Omaha.”
One more victory and they’ll be booking their tickets to Nebraska.
The baseball team that leads the nation in scoring only touched home plate three times Friday in their Coral Gables Super Regional opener, all three runs unearned. But that was just enough to defeat Virginia Commonwealth 3-2 and come within one victory of reaching the College World Series.
“One win away and it’s back to Omaha,’’ said UM coach Jim Morris, who has led the Canes (48-15) to two of their four national titles since he came to Coral Gables in 1994. “That’s a great feeling. We’ve got to get it done.
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“… I’m thinking lunch at The Light [Saturday], except we need a few more people. We had a great crowd today and hopefully it will be better tomorrow.’’
The Hurricanes and their fans were not exactly pleased when the NCAA announced that the No. 5 national seed Canes, whose 35-5 home record is the best in college baseball, would open their super regional at noon Friday.
Too early to fill the stands on a work day, they figured.
As it turned out, 2,853 rowdy fans still showed up at Alex Rodriguez Park at Mark Light Field, but repeated lightning strikes delayed the game for 90 minutes and prevented UM starter Andy Suarez from returning in the sixth.
Nonetheless, Suarez, UM’s left-handed ace who turned down nearly a million dollars from the Washington Nationals to return to the Hurricanes to graduate and play one more season, pitched another strong game. Suarez (9-1, 2.96 ERA) allowed one earned run in the third inning and gave up a total of three hits and a walk in five innings.
Reliever Cooper Hammond struggled for his second consecutive appearance, replacing Suarez and allowing a run on three hits in the sixth.
Michael Mediavilla, who was named a Louisville Slugger Freshman All-American on Wednesday, replaced Hammond and pitched two flawless innings, striking out three.
Closer Bryan Garcia retired the side in the ninth to wrap up the victory.
“Congratulations to the University of Miami,’’ said VCU coach Shawn Stiffler. “They pitched outstanding today. Mediavilla came in and did a really nice job bridging that thing, and Garcia is as advertised.
“We struck out nine times, had three errors and never got that big hit, so it was tough to string it together.’’
VCU (40-24), the only No. 4 regional seed coming into any of the eight super regionals this weekend, has not allowed more than three runs in the past 16 games.
Rams left-handed senior JoJo Howie, who has a mild form of muscular dystrophy, remained in the game after the lightning delay, seemingly even stronger when the game resumed in the bottom of the fifth. But the Hurricanes scored all three runs with two outs in the second, and Howie (8-7, 2.77) took the loss.
As of Friday, Miami had outscored opponents 149-41 in the first three innings of games played at Mark Light.
Garrett Kennedy began the rally by walking, Brandon Lopez followed with a grounder to Howie, who erred on the attempted force out at second, putting Kennedy on second and Lopez on first.
Willie Abreu also grounded to the pitcher, advancing the runners to second and third, before Jacob Heyward singled up the middle to make it 2-0.
Ricky Eusebio singled to score Heyward, who had stolen second, and the Canes were up 3-0.
VCU came back in the third with a run on an RBI-groundout by Logan Ferrar. James Bunn was hit by a pitch and went to second on a single by Alex Gransback. Bunn advanced to third on a sacrifice bunt by Walker Haymaker, then scored on the grounder to second.
The Rams scored again in a controversial sixth inning.
After Howie retired the side, submarine pitcher Hammond replaced Suarez and allowed a run on singles by Matt Davis and James Bunn and a fielder’s choice by Jimmy Kerrigan.
When UM second baseman George Iskenderian attempted to field a light chopper by Vima Machin, Davis interfered with the play – but at first was ruled safe at second, which sent out an angry Morris.
After long deliberation, the ruling was reversed and Davis was called for interference – and out came an angry Stiffler. Instead of runners on second and third with no outs, there was one out and a runner on first.
VCU scored after that, but ended the inning when Hammond struck out Alex Gransback.
“The calling umpire can choose to ask for help on the play if he’s not 100-percent sure on the call,’’ said crew chief Billy Van Raaphorst, “and that’s why we got together to make sure we got the play correct.’’
Saturday’s game again begins at noon, with left-handed senior Heath Dwyer (10-2, 2.85) starting for VCU, and left-handed junior Thomas Woodrey (7-2, 2.84) throwing for Miami.
If VCU wins Saturday, the winner-take-all game would be at noon Sunday.
GM1: UM 3, VCU 2
GM2: VCU vs. UM, noon Saturday, ESPNU
*GM3: VCU vs. UM, noon Sunday