If the sixth-ranked Miami Hurricanes were thinking too hard about the NCAA’s No. 1 baseball team — the Florida Gators — coming to Mark Light Field this weekend for one of the biggest series of the season, they’re probably not now.
On Wednesday, it was the nation’s No. 2 team in the lesser-regarded National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics (NAIA) that nearly made the Canes crumble.
Neighboring St. Thomas University, the runner-up at last year’s NAIA World Series, scored three runs in the eighth inning on a home run by Oscar Aguirre to take a two-run lead, before UM tied it in the ninth inning and won 7-6 in the 10th on an error by St. Thomas pitcher Brandon Valentin.
With two outs and runners on second and third for Miami, Jacob Heyward hit a full-count dribbler to Valentin, who bobbled the ball and pulled St. Thomas first baseman Kendrick Gutierrez off the bag with an errant throw that allowed Chris Barr to score the winning run at The Light.
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“I was just trying to get a hit for my team,” Heyward, UM’s cleanup hitter, said of the dribbler. “I didn’t hit it the way I wanted to, but things happen in mysterious ways. I just tried to bust my butt down the line to try to beat out a play.”
The Hurricanes (4-0) stranded a school-record 22 runners, including nine with the bases loaded in the fifth, sixth and eighth innings.
“Well that probably comes under the definition of an ugly win, but you’ll take it any way you can,” UM coach Jim Morris said. “We played good defense. We could have pitched better. We definitely could have hit better. We left too many guys on base. But at the end of the day we won. … Heyward put the ball in play with two strikes and busted his butt to get down the line on a dead out and ends up bang-bang a safe play because he busted it and played hard.”
It was nearly St. Thomas’ first win over Miami since March 4, 1986.
The two schools have been playing since 1968, when St. Thomas — out of Miami Gardens — was known as Biscayne College. Miami leads the overall series 74-6.
The game was delayed 43 minutes by heavy rain after Miami scored a run, but left the bases loaded for the third time.
St. Thomas (7-8) pitched its mid-week starter Wednesday, saving its right-handed ace — 6-2, 300-pound senior Ben Ancheff — for conference rival Webber International this weekend. Nonetheless, for most of the game, the Bobcats looked every bit like players seeking their first national championship, as opposed to the Hurricanes seeking their fifth.
Canes catcher Zack Collins said Miami had not overlooked the Bobcats because of this weekend’s big series with the Gators, who beat Miami twice in the 2015 College World Series, including in the elimination game.
“I just think we left a lot of guys on base tonight,” Collins said. “We had a lot of opportunities to score early and we didn’t. We left a team like that in the game and they obviously hit that three-run home run. It’s the game of baseball. I don’t think we were looking ahead. Obviously there was talk about Florida and stuff but I think we played for tonight and we just didn’t get it done.”
UM went up 2-0 in the first on singles by Chris Barr and Collins, a walk by Jacob Heyward, RBI single by Willie Abreu and sacrifice fly by Johnny Ruiz.
St. Thomas evened it up in the third on a home run to right field by German Morales, double by Adam Duarte and RBI-single by Jose Gomez.
UM made it 3-2 in the third on a wild pitch that scored Abreu, who walked and advanced to third on a single by Ruiz.
Collins’ RBI single to right scored Carl Chester to make it 4-2 in the fourth, before St. Thomas inched one run closer in the sixth on an RBI single to left by Steven Fischer, scoring Gomez.
UM could only muster one in the eighth with bases loaded, and scored its ninth-inning run on a fielder’s choice.
UM right-handed sophomore Jesse Lepore lasted four innings in his first career start, allowing two earned runs on six hits and a walk, with one strikeout.
Freshman Andrew Cabezas relieved Lepore and allowed four runs on four hits and a walk in 3 2/3 innings. Sidewinder Cooper Hammond pitched a third of an inning, and freshman Frankie Bartow went the final two for his first career victory.
St. Thomas used eight pitchers. Starter Alex Sarmiento lasted 3 2/3 innings.