Miami Hurricanes Baseball: Hurricanes Scrape by Pesky St. Thomas in Wild 7-6 Victory

Jun 15, 2015; Omaha, NE, USA; Miami Hurricanes outfielder Jacob Heyward (24) drives in the winning run in the ninth inning against the Arkansas Razorbacks in the 2015 College World Series at TD Ameritrade Park. Miami defeated Arkansas 4-3. Mandatory Credit: Steven Branscombe-USA TODAY Sports
Jun 15, 2015; Omaha, NE, USA; Miami Hurricanes outfielder Jacob Heyward (24) drives in the winning run in the ninth inning against the Arkansas Razorbacks in the 2015 College World Series at TD Ameritrade Park. Miami defeated Arkansas 4-3. Mandatory Credit: Steven Branscombe-USA TODAY Sports /

The Miami Hurricanes (4-0) came into their game against the St. Thomas Bobcats (7-8) having won the last 22 matchups between the two teams in dominating fashion. On Wednesday night though against the NAIA school, the Canes were anything but dominating.

Despite leaving a record 22 men on-base and allowing ten hits to St. Thomas the Hurricanes pulled off a narrow 7-6 victory just a few days before they host the No. 1 Florida Gators this weekend.

From the outset it looked like the Hurricanes would cruise against St. Thomas as Jesse Lepore making his first career start put a zero up on the board and the Miami bats looked awake from the get-go. After singles from Chris Barr and Zack Collins, Jacob Heyward walked and Willie Abreu drove in the first run of the game with a smoked single into right. The red-hot Johnny Ruiz followed up Abreu with a sacrifice fly into left to score Collins and increase Miami’s lead to 2-0.

Both teams went down quietly in the second, but in the top of the third, St. Thomas showed they were going to be in it for the long haul. German Morales took a first pitch fastball from Lepore deep over the head of Abreu and with a stiff breeze heading out to right, the ball cleared the fence for a home run. After the homer, Adam Duerte doubled down the right field line and Jose Gomez tied the game up at 2-2 with a single up the middle.

In the bottom half of the third, Miami instantly responded. Abreu drew a one-out walk and advanced all the way to third after a two-out single from Johnny Ruiz. With Romy Gonzalez up, St. Thomas starter Alex Sarmiento uncorked a wild pitch, allowing Abreu to score from third.

With a 3-2 lead, Lepore continued to put up scoreless frames, but wasn’t entirely convincing giving up six hits in his four innings of work. The sophomore right hander was solid in his first career start, but will certainly need to improve as the season rolls on.

In the fourth, Miami added another run off an RBI single from Zack Collins and with a 4-2 lead, the Canes looked poised to breakaway, but they just couldn’t get that clutch hit they desperately needed. In both the fifth and six inning, the Hurricanes left the bases loaded and missed opportunities to put the game out of reach for good. Ultimately, they paid for that.

After a Steven Fischer RBI single in the top of the sixth cut the Miami lead to 4-3, the Bobcats finally took advantage of all the Miami missed opportunities in the top of the eighth. With runners on first and second against Andrew Cabezas, Oscar Aguirre launched a mammoth home run off the scoreboard in left and to the shock of the 2,470 in attendance, St. Thomas took a 6-4 lead.

With Miami at-bat in the bottom of the eighth, the Canes loaded the bases once again after a Ruiz walk, a Gonzalez double and a Batista walk and finally the Hurricanes capitalized. Carl Chester took a five-pitch walk of his own and cut the St. Thomas lead to 6-5, but with the bases still loaded, Chris Barr struck out to once again strand multiple runners on in a big opportunity.

With the madness on the field playing out, madness in the sky began as well as a downpour soaked Mark Light Field and the game went into a 43-minute rain delay before they could start the top of the ninth. After the delay, Frankie Bartow came on in relief and delivered a 1-2-3 frame to give the Canes a shot at tying it up in the bottom of the ninth.

The rally started well as Collins drew a leadoff walk, but Jacob Heyward followed with a fielder’s choice to put a runner on first with one out for Willie Abreu. Deciding not to bunt and move the runner over, Morris went with a more aggressive approach and his juniors executed. With Heyward running on the pitch, Abreu smacked a liner into right field allowing the Miami left fielder to advance all the way to third.

In the very next at-bat, Johnny Ruiz stepped to the plate and on a 2-2 pitch, the junior hit a sharp grounder to the second basemen Michael Centeno. Initially Centeno bobbled the ball, but he was able to recover and tag second base and get a throw off to first. The throw came up way short though which made Ruiz safe at first and allowed Heyward to score from third to tie the game up at 6-6.

Even though the rally was impressive, the Canes had a chance to win the game and after Peter Crocitto was hit by a pitch, Gonzalez got that opportunity. The freshman who has started well couldn’t convert though as he skied one into left for the third out of the inning.

The Hurricanes followed their heart-stopping rally with a nice shutdown inning from Bartow in the tenth and looked to finally close the Bobcats out in the bottom half of the tenth.

Eric Torrente began the inning for the Bobcats and started well as he retired Randy Batista and Carl Chester to start, but after a walk to Barr, Torrente was pulled in favor of Brandon Valentin. The lefthander looked rattled right away as he walked Collins and then balked to move Barr to third and Collins to second. Still with two outs, that mistake proved vital.

With Heyward up, the junior dribbled one right to Valentin, but the redshirt sophomore bobbled the ball and couldn’t make the play. Barr raced down the third base line and scored, somehow giving Miami the 7-6 victory.

“I think that probably falls under the category of an ugly win, but you’ll take them anyway you can,” Coach Jim Morris said after the game. “We played good defense, we could have pitched better and we definitely could have hit better tonight.”

Of course you always want to come away with a victory, but the way Miami did it was more than ugly, it was historic. Overall, the Canes left 22 men on-base which set a new school record that had stood for 63 years. The record they broke was set by the Canes against the Parris Island Marines all the back on March, 5th, 1953. Yeah, it was a long time ago.

Against almost any other team the Hurricanes will play this year, especially Florida coming up this weekend, they certainly won’t get away with those kind of numbers.

“We needed some big two-out hits tonight and we just didn’t get them,” Morris said of his team’s struggles with men on-base. “We left the bases loaded three times and normally that comes back to bite you, but tonight we were lucky to get the win.”

One would think there was a possibility that the team was overlooking an NAIA school in St. Thomas and anticipating their series with the No. 1 Gators, but after the game, the Miami players said otherwise.

“I don’t think we were looking ahead,” Zack Collins said after the game. “Obviously there is talk about Florida, but I think we were focused on tonight and just didn’t get it done.”

Considering all their missed opportunities and their average pitching, coming back to get the win late was impressive, but as this team moves forward, they can’t have any more games like this one. There were a few bright spots like Zack Collins 2-for-3 night with three walks and a first career win for Frankie Bartow, but obviously moving forward, the quality of their performances need to improve.

The Canes were anything but dominating Wednesday night against St. Thomas and with Florida coming up soon, that had better change quickly.