The Mark Light Magic has returned.
On a weekend that the University of Miami desperately needed to get a series started on the right foot, the Hurricanes clawed all the way back after trailing 7-0 through six innings of play.
The Canes scored nine runs over the last three innings, capped off by a pinch hit walk-off home run by senior captain Johnny Ruiz that scored three runs and gave Miami the 9-7 victory over the Duke Blue Devils.
“It’s an awesome feeling,” an emotional Ruiz said. “I haven’t been playing well the last couple of weeks, so when Coach gave me the opportunity to get an at-bat, I didn’t want to let my team down.”
UM (14-16, 6-7 ACC) managed just one hit through six innings of play, but it exploded for four runs in the seventh and plated five in the ninth to take the win on the opening night of the series.
Miami trailed 7-4 heading into the final frame, and with the odds stacked against them, the Hurricanes didn’t give up. They had a runner on first with two outs.
Then, the magic happened.
Redshirt senior Christopher Barr and redshirt sophomore Alex Sanchez worked back-to-back full-count walks to load the bases.
After a pitching change for the Blue Devils, senior Randy Batista rocketed a double down left field, bringing home two runs for the Hurricanes.
Trailing 7-6 with runners on second and third with two outs, UM Coach Jim Morris called on his senior captain to get the job done.
Ruiz, who was hitting just .183 entering the game, went down 0-2 in the count but battled back all the way to make it a full count.
And then he made contact. Ball game.
“I was trying to give a good at-bat,” Ruiz said about his approach at the plate. “Whether I got a hit or not, I was going to go out fighting. A lot of times when you go down 0-2, you battle back and get yourself in a better count. That’s what I was trying to do.”
The home run was the second of the season and the first career walk-off hit over the wall for Ruiz.
“We were down three in the last inning, and I believed we could do it,” Ruiz said. “I think everybody else did too. I have to give a lot of credit to Randy. That was a really big hit to even give me the opportunity to come up there. A lot of credit to him — that was a great, great, great at-bat. He never gave up.”
Duke (16-16, 5-8 ACC) jumped to an early 6-0 lead with a crooked spot in the fourth inning.
Hurricanes ace Jesse Lepore (1-4) struggled on the mound, getting roughed up for six runs on four hits in just 3.2 innings of play.
Blue Devils southpaw Mitch Stallings tossed six shutout innings before the Canes cracked the scoreboard.
UM junior outfielder Carl Chester reached on a one-out double and scored on a Romy Gonzalez infield single along with throwing errors by Duke shortstop Zach Kone.
Back-to-back singles from Edgar Michelangeli and Hunter Tackett loaded the bases, thus setting it up the ideal situation for Barr.
Barr cleared the bases with a double to trim the deficit to 7-4.
Miami freshman Albert Maury Jr. (2-0) tossed the final two innings, picking up the victory.
The Hurricanes are inspired to bounce back the second half of the season. Another local sports team showed them that this is more than possible.
“Me and Edgar were talking the other day, the Miami Heat started off 11-30, and they’re one game out of the playoffs,” Ruiz said. “You can never give up. Never give. Obviously we haven’t done as well as we would have liked to early on, but we have a sign with a number in the locker room that says how many games we have left and what we’re going to make out of these last games. We’ve only played half of the season.”
Miami will try to keep the momentum rolling when it takes on Duke 2 p.m. Sunday for game number-two of the three-game set.