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9 April 2014

Canes hang on to beat UCF, win ninth straight

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Six days ago, the Miami Hurricanes baseball team overcame a five-run deficit against Virginia Tech on the road, winning in dramatic fashion in the final inning.

Wednesday night, it was the Hurricanes that blew a five-run lead.

They still found a way to win.

Resiliency has been a theme for the Hurricanes during their nine-game winning streak, one that has vaulted them back into the Top 25 in every national poll, and started to put them in the discussion for hosting a postseason regional.

Miami was on the road facing a Central Florida squad that had won 13 of its past 15 games, a run that began in Coral Gables when the Knights defeated the Hurricanes in dominating fashion, 9-3.

Javi Salas made his first start since giving up six runs in the first inning against Bethune-Cookman on March 11. That was his first start following his perfect game, and it was a struggle from the first pitch, when he gave up a hit to right field.

Wednesday night, Salas was in top form, going five strong innings, giving up no runs, his best start of the season aside from the historic perfect game.

Salas at one point retired eight straight UCF batters, in front of a packed Jay Bergman Field that filled the stands to see the Canes for the first time in two years. Last time the two teams met in Orlando, a dramatic 3-2 game unfolded in 2012 that included an ejection of then Miami catcher Peter O’Brien.

This time, the Hurricanes bullpen surrendered three runs in the bottom of the sixth, and two in the bottom of the eighth, enabling the Knights to tie the game heading into the final frame.

As the top of the ninth began, Miami’s 5-through-9 batters were 0-14 on the night, with cleanup hitter Zack Collins leading off. Collins struck out, but that is where the Miami rally began.

Brad Fieger lined his first hit of the game up the middle, and after John Laworski pinch-ran for Fieger, Brandon Lopez perfectly executed a hit and run that moved Laworski to third.

Garrett Kennedy then drew a walk, and the bases were loaded for Alex Hernandez.

Hernandez, a senior who was hitless on the day, made contact out to deep left center field, and that was all Miami needed to score a speedy Laworski from third.

Suddenly, Miami was back on top 6-5.

Bryan Garcia, one of the top pitchers out of the bullpen all season for Miami, and tied for the ACC lead in saves, worked his way through a dramatic inning that included two base runners with one out and a leadoff double.

However, Garcia, who has worked his way through jams all season long, induced a two-out popup to Jonny Ruiz at third, ending the game, giving Garcia the win, and the Canes their ninth straight game in a most thrilling fashion.

Miami will face Pittsburgh at Mark Light Field 7 p.m. Friday, aiming for a seventh straight ACC victory.