Omaha, guess who’s back.
After missing the College World Series last season, No. 1 Miami maintained its momentum from Saturday night’s 14-10 victory to score early and hold onto the lead against Arizona for a 4-2 win in the rubber match at Mark Light Field.
Enrique Garcia (7-3) went six innings and gave up only two runs on seven hits with four strikeouts and a walk, while three relievers – Kyle Bellamy, Chris Hernandez and Carlos Gutierrez – finished off the final three frames.
The Hurricanes (52-9) took an early lead for the first time in the series with three straight hits to left on two-strike counts, including a two-run shot by first baseman Yonder Alonso.
It was his second long ball in as many games and 23rd overall, which leads the team.
Centerfielder Blake Tekotte led off the inning with a single that got through the hole in between shortstop and third and second baseman Jemile Weeks ripped a double down the third base line. Weeks finished 2-for-4 with two runs and an RBI.
“We’ve been huge all year,” Alonso said. “It’s great to come up big.”
Before Alonso’s at-bat, catcher Dwight Childs, head coach Andy Lopez and starter Eric Berger (8-4) held a meeting on the mound to discuss strategy, much like how Arizona (42-19) had done all series long.
Its offense came back in the bottom of the inning with a run of its own. After reaching on a drive that bounced off Alonso’s glove for an infield hit, Rafael Valenzuela advanced to second when Colt Sedbrook’s slow chopper on a hit and run avoided a double play. The next batter Brad Glenn singled up the middle to cut the lead to two at 3-1.
Weeks got his second hit of the ballgame up the middle to lead off the third and headed to second when Steele made a fielding error. Alonso followed with a deep fly to left that Weeks tagged up on, which set up an RBI groundout by third baseman Mark Sobolewski to extend the lead to 4-1.
Miami wouldn’t score for the rest of the game, however, as Berger pitched seven and two-thirds innings and retired 17 of the last 21 batters he faced, a streak that began in the third inning when he last gave up a run and ended on a two-out double to Sobolewski in the eighth.
“I came out of the gate throwing strikes and that’s what I wanted to do,” Berger said.
With a runner on third and one out, the Wildcats had a chance to reduce the lead when both Glenn and Jon Gaston, Friday night’s hero, swung at the first pitch for easy outs to end the threat after Valenzuela’s leadoff double to left and a grounder off the bat of Sebrook that moved him over.
Neither offense could muster much of anything until the bottom of the sixth when Arizona had runners at first and third with two outs before Childs stranded them both on a groundout to third.
Arizona left 12 total runners on base, a reversal of fortune that saw the Canes do the same in the previous two games.
“Best team we played all year,” head coach Andy Lopez said. “I think Miami is a very balanced team. They got a big hit Alonso and we missed a big hit two or three times and that’s the essence of it.”
For the second inning in a row, the Wildcats stranded runners at the corners when Gaston grounded into a fielder’s choice at second on the first pitch from Hernandez.
“Chris came up to me and said, ‘If you want me to pitch, I’m ready to pitch,'” head coach Jim Morris said.
Closer Carlos Gutierrez came in and got out of a bases-loaded jam when he fielded a ball to his right that was softly hit by Valenzuela and threw a rocket to first for the final out of the eighth. Morris compared it to an ESPN top play.
Lopez sent three pinch hitters to the plate in the inning, two of which reached, after a one-out single by Steele.
“I really didn’t have time to think about it,” Gutierrez said. “I think Sobo was playing a little bit farther back and I just got it and threw it to first.”
Determined to go out fighting, Arizona put the leadoff batter on when Weeks made an error on a routine grounder that popped out of his glove. Afterwards, the second baseman insisted it wasn’t caused by nerves.
On the final out, shortstop Ryan Jackson ranged to the end of the infield on his backhand and threw out Ziegler on a strong throw as the Hurricanes rushed the field to celebrate.
“Anytime they hit the ball to Jackson, I’m happy,” Morris said.
The Canes’ four juniors- Alonso, Weeks, Tekotte and right fielder Dennis Raben – found each other first before joining the rest of their teammates in a pile.
“We decided we all were going to hug,” Alonso said. “We’ve been through a lot. We were determined to get better in the summer and work harder.”
Miami will take on Georgia (41-23-1) in its 23rd trip to Omaha, Neb. for the 2008 College World Series. Eight teams that survive super regionals will play for the championship starting on June 14. Florida State (54-12) and Stanford (39-22-2) will also be in the bracket.
“All year that’s been our goal,” Weeks said. “We have a special team and I think we proved it day in and day out. We have more depth [than last year]. We put it all together and we can do great things.”