The University of Miami’s dream of reaching the College World Series in Omaha, Nebraska, is down to a winner-take-all game, a won-or-done Sunday.
Of course it is!
Did you expect anything else?
This whole baseball season has been like that, nothing coming easily for the Hurricanes. That No. 3 ranking in the national polls might suggest dominance or an easy glide to here, but these Canes are better cast as scrappers and fighters, so it’s fitting the entire season funnels now to a single must-win game.
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It is Omaha or bust now.
This is why we love sports, right?
Well, Canes fans would have loved it a little more of course had their team not blown a 2-0 lead Saturday and lost 5-3 to Boston College to force a Game 3 in this NCAA Super Regional.
Fans on both sides also would have preferred the result not have been delayed 2 hours 50 minutes by lightning and/or rain before the ninth inning could finally begin.
But what that eventual result created is what sports do best: the highest stakes (in this case Omaha stakes), the all or nothing, the zero margin of error.
It created an afternoon like the one we’re about to get Sunday at it’s-still-Mark Light Field-to-me, where the Canes will either beat Boston College to reach the CWS again, or see what has been a very good season end quickly and sourly, 2016 relegated to an ultimate disappointment, a waste. You like drama? You got it.
We get Sunday because UM did not perform Saturday like a team accustomed to this stage.
“We made some errors, we didn’t bunt guys over, we had guys picked off — we did things we don’t normally do,” Canes coach Jim Morris summarized it well. “But you can’t ask for more than one game at home with a chance to go to Omaha.”
Miami seems well equipped for the challenge that is Sunday.
Ready, by practice, for a fight.
Almost half of UM’s wins this season, 22, were come-from-behind victories, six of them with dramatic walk-off hits.
Last week’s NCAA regional here was a 3-0 sweep by the Canes, but again, it hardly was easy. The first game was tied in the eighth inning, the second was won in the 11th, and the third found UM squandering an 8-1 lead and hanging on to survive 9-8.
“I might have ulcers by the end of the season,” Morris said.
Saturday didn’t help, gastronomically.
Miami led 2-0 sparked by MLB-certified Zack Collins, just drafted 10th overall by the Chicago White Sox, who busted open a scoreless game like his personal party piñata with a deep solo home run in the fourth inning. The Eagles’ right fielder barely moved.
But the Canes soon collapsed, and so uncharacteristically, committing two costly errors at second base and in right field as BC scored four times. Miami led all of NCAA Division I in team fielding percentage this season, but two critical and awfully timed mistakes Saturday left Miami hanging onto its season, fingertips on the window ledge.
“It can’t happen,” Willie Abreu said of his miscue in right. “But our emotions are good. We’re going to be fine.”
(UM also hurt itself on the base paths Saturday, with a runner picked off first base, a base stealer thrown out, and a runner tagged out at third.)
The Canes would pull within 4-3 on Johnny Ruiz’s triple, but it should have been 4-4. Collins had been called out at third base, but TV replays indicated the umpire blew the call. Morris shot from the dugout to argue demonstrably, but in vain, of course.
“I wasn’t coming out to ask him out to dinner,” Morris said of his nose-to-nose with the ump.
BC got its insurance run for the final score on a misplay (generously ruled a hit) in which the second baseman Ruiz injured his knee, likely erasing a .338 hitter from Miami’s lineup for the deciding game.
The Canes would get one final at-bat to try to rally, punch a ticket to Omaha and avoid the crapshoot of a Game 3, but only after that interminable weather pause.
UM athletic director Blake James wandered by during the delay.
“How’s it going, Blake?”
“I’ll tell you in an inning,” he said.
In that inning the Canes went down easily, before a crowd that had shrunk from a sold-out 5,000 to several hundred stalwarts who must have thought, “We waited three hours for that!?” It ended on a swinging strikeout by the star Collins.
At that moment, everything shifted — including the pressure onto Miami — to Sunday afternoon, and to one game that will define a season.
Poor Morris might need a cardiologist in the dugout with him Sunday.
If the Canes win, his Gatorade bath should be pink. Pepto-Bismol.