It’s becoming a Friday night trend.
For the second week in a row, junior right fielder Willie Abreu hit a walk-off home run in the bottom of the ninth inning to lead the Hurricanes to a victory over a high-ranking Atlantic Coast Conference foe.
This Friday night, Abreu lifted a ball deep over the left-field wall as UM rallied for a 9-8 win over Clemson.
The blast came a week after Abreu, a graduate of Mater Academy in Hialeah Gardens, hit a grand slam in the bottom of the ninth to beat Louisville.
“I don’t want to make that a tradition because we have to win games before the ninth inning,” Abreu said. “It was a great team win and a blessing to get another win against another really good team out there.”
UM (18-4, 5-2 in the ACC), ranked No. 4 by Baseball America, won its second consecutive game and seventh in its past eight games to take the first of the three-game series.
With seven ACC teams entering this week ranked in the Top 25, the Hurricanes seem to continue to find themselves in close games with one of them on a weekly basis.
Johnny Ruiz started the ninth with a double to the right-center-field gap. Two batters later, Abreu cleared the fence and set off a wild celebration enjoyed by most of the 2,811 spectators on hand.
“In the at-bat before, I had swung at some bad pitches and I just made an adjustment and told myself to relax and see the ball,” Abreu said. “We just kept battling and kept grinding. Our team has always done that as far as I can remember.”
The Hurricanes let a 7-2 lead entering the seventh inning slip away as their bullpen surrendered six runs.
Closer Bryan Garcia gave up three of them and suffered his first blown save of the season, giving up one in the eighth and two in the ninth when Drew Wharton doubled to left to score the tying and go-ahead runs.
The hit came after Garcia surrendered a double in the ninth to Clemson right fielder Seth Beer. An intentional walk and wild pitch put runners on first and third with one out. Garcia answered with a strikeout of shortstop Eli White, but couldn’t put Wharton away after he worked a 2-2 count.
“I left the ball up a little bit and wasn’t hitting my spots toward the end,” said Garcia, who had been 8 for 8 on save chances prior to Friday. “[Wharton] turned on one and hit it down the line. I just have to forget about it and be ready [Saturday].”
Hurricanes coach Jim Morris, who has long been fond of well-executed “small ball” throughout his legendary career, saw his team execute well for the most part in that department.
The Hurricanes bunted four times at key points in the game, including two that drove in runs.
Well-delivered bunts helped UM score five runs in the bottom of the fourth to rally from an early 2-0 deficit and defeat the 17th-ranked Tigers (17-4, 5-2), who had a winning streak snapped at eight games.
“It was a great win for us and our guys kept fighting,” Morris said. “This is not our bullpen [Friday night]. For us to be able to battle back. Ruiz gave us a chance to tie and Willie’s home run to win it. It was a great win against a really good club.”
The five-run fourth came on the strength of five hits a couple of Clemson errors.
Carl Chester, who went 3 for 5, provided the big hit with a double down the left-field line that drove in Edgar Michelangeli (2 for 4, RBI) two batters after he tied the score with a well-executed bunt up the first-base line that drove in Abreu on a squeeze play.
In the bottom of the sixth inning, Jacob Heyward dropped a bunt that went for a single and scored Christopher Barr to extend the lead to 6-2. Lopez, who went 2 for 3, followed with an RBI single to make it 7-2.
Clemson loaded the bases to start the seventh against freshman reliever Andrew Cabezas and plated three runs, snapping his 11-inning scoreless streak. Fellow freshman reliever Frankie Bartow was first called for a balk and gave up a sacrifice fly ball that allowed two runs to score.
UM starting lefty Thomas Woodrey, who had struggled in his previous two starts, walked a season-high four batters and gave up a solo home run in the first, but struck out four and only gave up one earned run on five hits in 5 1/3 innings pitched.