A home run by a rarely used Long Beach State reserve down to his final strike in the bottom of the ninth forced extra innings, but it only delayed the inevitable.
The University of Miami’s Carl Chester singled in the 11th to drive home Jacob Heyward for the go-ahead run in an eventual 4-3 Miami win late Saturday night at Mark Light Field.
The third-ranked Hurricanes are one win from advancing to the next round of the NCAA Division I Baseball Tournament.
“What a great game. Wow!’’ a spent UM coach Jim Morris said.
Canes closer Bryan Garcia entered in the ninth going for his 42nd career save, but he came up one pitch short when pinch-hitter Jeff Nellis took a two-out, two-strike offering and powered it over the left-center-field fence to tie the score at 3-3.
Before Saturday, Nellis, a junior, had played in 14 games with 21 at-bats and had a .095 average.
“I almost had a heart attack. I couldn’t believe it,’’ Morris said of Nellis’ blast that skimmed left fielder Heyward’s glove before clearing the fence. “The guy’s hitting .095. That’s the last thing I expected.
“… We were down three times and battled back. It was a great team win.”
The Canes will play at 7 p.m. Sunday against the winner of the FAU-Long Beach State game earlier in the day.
If UM wins Sunday, it would be the first time the Hurricanes (47-11) have swept through a regional since 2008.
The third-seeded Dirtbags (37-21) will meet No. 2 seed FAU (39-18) for the second time since Friday in the 1 p.m. Sunday elimination game.
In a four-and-a-half-hour game that started as a classic pitchers’ duel featuring a pair of 10-win starters, Miami scored two runs in the seventh — the second on an error that should have ended the inning — to take the lead.
Trailing 2-1, Brandon Lopez lifted his average to .394 with a leadoff single for his 25th multi-hit game of the season. Johnny Ruiz followed with a double to center that put Lopez at third, Willie Abreu walked to load the bases, and Heyward, who had struck out in two previous at-bats, hit a sacrifice fly to center for the 2-2 tie.
Then, with two outs and runners on first and second, a routine grounder that should have ended the seventh broke the tie after a bad throw by third baseman Zack Domingues caused the second baseman to drop the throw and allowed Ruiz to score for a 3-2 UM lead. The home crowd of 2,500, on its feet for much of the night, roared its approval.
Long Beach State replaced starter Darren McCaughan with right-handed reliever Chris Rivera after Miami took the lead.
McCaughan, the 2016 Big West Pitcher of the Year with a 1.98 ERA and only 15 walks in 104 1/3 innings entering the game, allowed three runs — two earned — on five hits and a walk in 6 2/3 innings. He struck out five.
Long Beach wasn’t the only team that saved its ace for Saturday after winning Friday.
UM starter Michael Mediavilla, a 6-5, 225-pound sophomore out of Hialeah Gardens Mater Academy, allowed two earned runs on seven hits and three walks in seven innings. He struck out six.
“My night tonight, I thought it was good,” Mediavilla said. “I was able to get a majority of the leadoff batters out because we knew they were going to be a quick team. … My defense is one of the best, if not the best. So I put them into use. Let them put the ball in play, that’s my mentality all the time.”
Mediavilla was replaced by freshman Frankie Bartow in the eighth.
UM freshman Andrew Cabezas (3-1) pitched 1 2/3 innings for the victory, while Austin McGeorge (1-1) took the loss as the result of Chester’s game-winning hit.
“Pretty excited, actually,” Chester said. “It was good. I guess it was a close play. … I’m just glad Heyward’s got speed so he could sneak in there.”
Should Miami win on Sunday and advance out of the regional, the Hurricanes got a huge gift when No. 2 regional seed Tulane eliminated Mississippi (43-19) on Saturday from the Oxford Regional, sending the sixth-ranked Rebels — the top seed in that regional — home and at least in theory making UM’s prospective path to the College World Series a lot easier.
The winner of the Coral Gables Regional will meet the winner of the Oxford Regional next weekend in a best-of-3 series.