Freshman Andrew Cabezas earned the first coveted start of his University of Miami career, but Carl Chester got the glory Friday at Mark Light Field.
Chester slugged a three-run homer in the bottom of the eighth to break a tie and clinch the 7-6 victory against Pittsburgh, and the fourth-ranked Hurricanes (38-9, 17-6 Atlantic Coast Conference) survived the opening game of their final home series of the season.
Freshman Frankie Bartow (3-0) pitched the eighth inning to earn the victory, with Bryan Garcia earning his 12th save of the season – but not before he allowed two runs in the ninth. The Panthers stranded the tying run at second thanks to a sliding grab by right fielder Willie Abreu to end the game.
“I was positive I was going to catch the ball,’’ Abreu said. “It was just a matter of time before I got there and caught it.’’
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UM coach Jim Morris wasn’t as sure.
“I thought it was a base hit, actually,’’ Morris said. “I ran up and saw him catch it, but I think he was pretty confident. It was a very good play.’’
Pittsburgh (25-21, 10-14) has lost all 13 games it has played against UM since 1969.
Cabezas, a Coral Gables High graduate who chose Miami after being drafted in the 34th round by Cleveland, allowed four earned runs on four hits and three walks in 4 2/3 innings. He struck out five.
“I finally got one in the books, got rid of all the butterflies and everything,’’ Cabezas said. “I keep a straight face throughout the whole game but yes, I had a lot of butterflies before the game. Once I got on the rubber it just felt like a regular game to me.’’
Panthers starter T.J. Zeuch, expected to be a first-round pick in the upcoming MLB Draft, allowed four earned runs on seven hits and three walks in 5 2/3 innings. Reliever Josh Mitchell took the loss.
After Pittsburgh went up 1-0 in the second inning on a home run to left by Alex Kowalczyk, the Hurricanes scored three runs in the second.
Brandon Lopez, whose .411 batting average was second in the ACC entering the weekend, led off with a double, Johnny Ruiz followed with a single and Abreu’s double down the left-field line brought them both home. Abreu scored on a wild pitch to make it 3-1.
The Panthers narrowed the lead to 3-2 in the third and tied the score at 3 in the fifth on two walks, a sacrifice bunt, wild pitch and two singles.
With two outs, Cabezas was replaced by right-handed reliever Devin Meyer, who gave up a single for the 4-3 Pitt lead.
UM made it 4-4 in the sixth on walks by Randy Batista and Jacob Heyward and a double by Edgar Michelangeli (3 for 3, 1 RBI) that just skimmed over the head of the Pitt third baseman.
Chester’s eighth-inning blast to left then scored Michelangeli and Jacob Heyward.
When asked what he was thinking when he got up to the plate, Chester, who has two homers for the season and seven for his career, said, “Definitely not a home run because I’m not a home-run hitter. But just put a good swing on the ball, put the ball in play. A home run is a home run, but especially in a crucial situation to put the team on top is always great.’’