The last time a No. 1 seed went on to win the College World Series was in 1999 when the Miami Hurricanes achieved the difficult task.
Unfortunately for this year’s team, history didn’t repeat itself in a 8-3 loss in the elimination game against Stanford Wednesday night at Rosenblatt Stadium in Omaha, Neb.
With a defense and offense that led the Hurricanes throughout the season to a 53-11 record, both failed to produce with two errors and 12 runners left on base.
Starter Enrique Garcia (7-3) lasted only four and one-thirds innings and two walks. The bullpen didn’t fare much better as three relievers combined to allow three runs.
Erik Davis (8-3), meanwhile, came in to relieve starter Danny Sandbrink in the fifth and threw four innings of two-run ball to shut down the potent Miami offense.
“I think this was not my best game stat-wise, but team-wise,” said Davis told reporters after the game. “Going into it I knew if we could hang with them late in the game we had a chance.”
Things started off on the right foot for the Canes who played small ball on an infield and bunt hit by Blake Tekotte and Jemile Weeks respectively. Both stole second and after Yonder Alonso struck out on the seventh pitch of his at-bat with runners at second and third and no outs, Mark Sobolewski hit a sacrifice fly to center on the first pitch to score the first run of the game.
In the bottom half of the inning, Stanford (41-23-2) left two on after a leadoff single and an amazing leaping catch at the wall by Dennis Raben in right for the first out. The next batter Jason Castro singled to left on the first pitch, but both Brent Milleville and Randy Molina flied out to strand the runners.
Three straight hits helped surge the Cardinals to a 2-1 lead when Cord Phelps, who fell just a homer shy of the cycle, doubled off the left field wall, Joey August singled sharply to center, Castro hit an infield single to score a runner and Milleville bunted to put runners at second and third with one out. A sacrifice fly from Molina scored the runner.
“The key for us was our offense,” said head coach Mark Marquess. “We got some big hits. Tonight we got a couple of big hits with runners on. We won the big spots tonight vs. a very good University of Miami team.”
Once again the No. 1-ranked team failed to bring home runners in a promising fifth inning when Yasmani Grandal, the ninth batter, led off with a walk and Davis came in to walk Tekotte to put runners at first and second with no outs. In a questionable move, Weeks popped up a sacrifice bunt for the first out and both Alonso and Sobolewski struck out, for the third and second time each.
Miami finished 2-for-13 with seven strikeouts with runners in scoring position.
“We had opportunities with one or two outs and guys on base and didn’t get it in,” said head coach Jim Morris. “We weren’t hot right at the end of the season. In the middle of the season I felt like we could beat anyone at anytime. We didn’t get it going out here. The team that gets it going, gets hot, is the team that’s going to win.”
Using the top half of the inning as motivation, the Cardinals broke open the game to tally four more runs off four hits and an error to extend the lead to six at 7-1.
Milleville singled to start it off and scored on a one-out two-run shot by Sean Ratcliff, his 22nd of the year, to deep right center to chase Garcia out of the game.
“He hung a split finger over the plate,” said Ratcliff. “He threw a first pitch for a ball. I saw it out of his hand early and could get my hands out and extended.”
With reliever Anthony Nalepa in, Sobolewski made a fielding error on a chopper and with two outs and two runners on, Phelps tripled to center past a diving Tekotte to score two.
Another insurance run was added in the sixth to make the score 8-1 when Milleville scored on a Gerhart double.
The first four batters for Stanford combined for eight hits, four RBI and four runs scored.
Grandal cut the lead to six with his seventh homer in the seventh to deep center, and with back-to-back-to-back singles by Jackson, Severino and Raben on the first pitches in their at-bats in the top of the eighth, it looked as though the Canes were back in business.
However, only one run would score on a sacrifice fly by Jason Hagerty before Grandal and Tekotte struck out with runners at the corners to keep it at 8-3.
“We had everything you need in a good ball club,” said Raben. “We just weren’t hot out here. We just didn’t get it done. That’s baseball.”
In a final attempt to save the season with three outs left, Weeks walked and Alonso doubled to set up runners at second and third with no outs.
It was only fitting, then, when they were stranded as Sobolewski fouled out, Jackson stared at strike three and Adan Severino lined out to Drew Storen, who snared the ball for the final out to end Miami’s promising year prematurely.
“I’m proud of this team,” said Morris. “They have the best team record since I’ve been at Miami. They worked hard, played with a common goal to get to Omaha. They’ll always be Hurricanes.”
Christina De Nicola may be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.