University of Miami

Miami baseball team escapes again, wins NCAA regional to advance to super regional

The Miami Hurricanes celebrate after defeating Long Beach State University 9-8 in the NCAA Baseball Championship Coral Gables Regional finals game on June 5, 2016, held at Mark Light Field.
The Miami Hurricanes celebrate after defeating Long Beach State University 9-8 in the NCAA Baseball Championship Coral Gables Regional finals game on June 5, 2016, held at Mark Light Field. lriely@miamiherald.com

Despite two grueling comeback victories to open play in the NCAA Baseball Tournament, including an 11-inning, four-and-a-half-hour marathon Saturday night, the University of Miami just couldn’t make it easy for itself on Sunday in its third game of the Coral Gables Regional.

After eliminating No. 2 regional seed FAU on Sunday afternoon for the right to face the third-ranked Hurricanes, unranked Long Beach State would not surrender.

But neither would Miami.

The Hurricanes held off a late, furious push by Long Beach State to beat the Dirtbags 9-8 on Sunday night and advance to a super regional next weekend against Boston College at Mark Light Field.

One inning after UM came away empty with bases loaded and no outs, Randy Batista hit a two-out, walk-off single to right-center field to score Chris Barr from third for the winning run that ended another four-hour-plus game. It was UM’s sixth walk-off victory of the season.

“I didn’t think it could get any more dramatic than [Saturday night],’’ said UM coach Jim Morris, referring to Saturday’s 4-3 victory over the Dirtbags. “But it was an amazing game. Baseball is an amazing game. The game’s never over. It ain’t over till it’s over.”

With the Hurricanes leading 8-1 after five innings, Long Beach State began its comeback as the Dirtbags’ Alex Muzzi launched his first career home run — good for three runs. A triple and two consecutive walks loaded the bases, followed by a walk to force in a run, an RBI fielder’s choice and an RBI groundout to finish the scoring and cut Miami’s lead to 8-7.

Long Beach State’s six runs in the sixth came on only two hits.

By the end of the sixth, with UM starter Jesse Lepore out of the game after three innings because of tightness in his throwing shoulder, the Canes had used four pitchers — with Devin Meyers, Andrew Cabezas and Kevin Pimentel coming out of the bullpen.

UM brought in usual freshman setup man Frankie Bartow in the seventh to stop the bleeding. But Bartow gave up the game-tying run in the eighth on a failed pickoff that sailed past first baseman Barr and allowed Long Beach State’s Jarren Duran to score from third.

Seldom-used junior reliever Ryan Guerra, UM’s sixth and final pitcher, earned the victory with three strikeouts in a scoreless ninth. In Guerra’s last outing before Sunday, he allowed a walk-off homer to Florida State. Sunday’s effort more than made up for that, as Guerra (2-1) pounded his fist with a vengeance after striking out the side.

“I think for me, one of the things I use to my advantage is my emotions,” Guerra said. “I might not have the most dominant stuff, so I try to use everything else and build a lot of passion.”

The Hurricanes (48-11), who had eight combined runs in their first two weekend wins against Stetson and Long Beach State, matched that total by the fourth inning Sunday to provide the needed cushion.

Long Beach State ended its season at 38-22.

“I’m extremely proud of my team. I don’t think there’s any doubt about that,” Long Beach State coach Troy Buckley said. “Very resilient group that’s learned how to grind all year. It’s not always pretty, but at the same time, I love my kids.

“That’s a tough way to go out,’’ Buckley added, his voice cracking. “But it’s a tough place to win here. You can’t give people free opportunities.”

Zack Collins, 1 for 8 with four strikeouts in the first two games, blasted a home run that fell onto UM’s Cobb Stadium track in the first inning for a 1-0 lead.

It would have been 2-0 had Carl Chester not been thrown out at second after leading off with a single and going for second when a pitch to Batista bounced off the dirt and into the catcher’s mitt.

The Canes scored again in the second on an RBI double to right-center by Edgar Michelangeli.

After allowing back-to-back walks to Collins and Brandon Lopez to begin the third inning, Long Beach State starter Jacob Hughey already had walked four. In came right-handed freshman Chris Rivera, who promptly walked Johnny Ruiz to load the bases.

Back-to-back sacrifice flies by Willie Abreu and Jacob Heyward then sent Collins and Lopez across home plate for a 4-1 Hurricanes lead, and two subsequent infield errors loaded the bases again for Chester, who was hit by a pitch, scoring Ruiz to make it 5-1.

Ruiz hit an RBI single and Abreu followed with a two-run homer in the fourth to give Miami the 8-1 lead before Long Beach State began fighting back.

The Canes will meet fellow Atlantic Coast Conference member Boston College (34-20) next week in a super regional that will determine who advances to the College World Series in Omaha, Nebraska.

The last time Miami met BC was in March 2014, when UM swept the three-game series. UM is 18-6 all-time against the Eagles, who won three in a row in the Oxford, Mississippi, regional as a No. 3 seed.

UM’s victory Sunday marked the first time the Hurricanes swept through a regional since 2008 and the first time since 2005-06 that they’ve reached back-to-back super regionals.

“Every game is your biggest game from now on,” Morris said. “Every win is your biggest win.’’

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