Miami’s offense had fallen into a bit of a slump in losses to Clemson and Central Florida earlier this week. Against North Carolina, the bats woke up.
The No. 13 Hurricanes came away with a 4-0 win over the third-ranked Tar Heels on a wacky Sunday afternoon that featured a combined five errors, two balks, and an ejection. Steven Ewing pitched six scoreless innings with a season-high nine strikeouts to pick up his fourth win of the year.
The win gave Miami (24-8, 11-4 ACC) their first sweep of a top-five opponent since 2001, when they took three games from Florida State – then ranked third – in Tallahassee en route to their fourth College World Series title.
“It’s great,” head coach Jim Morris said. “North Carolina being ranked No. 3 in the country and being in the top of the division when they came in here in the ACC, putting it together and playing well as a team, I think that was the important thing. It gives us a lot of confidence.”
On Sunday, Miami got on the board in the second inning without recording a hit. Jarred Mederos drew a walk to bring in the first run off UNC starter Benton Moss. The bases were loaded thanks to two previous walks and an error by catcher Jacob Stallings.
Things got heated between the umpires and the UNC coaching staff in the third when, after Tyler Palmer led off the inning with a single, home plate umpire Tony Maners called a balk on Moss. Pitching coach Scott Forbes was ejected after arguing the call.
Dale Carey then grounded to second, and Moss was called for another balk with Peter O’Brien at the plate. Palmer scored after a fly ball was dropped by UNC’s Michael Russell, giving Miami its second run .
Ewing walked three runners in the fourth inning, contributing to a career-high seven walks in the game, but was able to end the inning without any damage to the lead.
“I’ve never had anything like that. I think that’s the most walks I’ve had in my entire career, ever, in my entire life,” he said. “It wasn’t fun, I just couldn’t find my fastball in the fourth inning on. It was frustrating, but I just did what I could to mix together at-bats and find some way to get people out.”
Miami added two insurance runs in the seventh to clinch the game – and the sweep.
After scoring a combined seven runs in their previous four games, the Canes offense broke out with eight runs in a 8-0 blowout win on Friday night. Starter Eric Erickson was masterful in seven innings of work, striking out five with no walks. O’Brien and Chantz Mack combined to drive in seven of the Hurricanes’ eight runs.
While Friday night’s matchup offered an offensive explosion, Saturday featured a 14-inning pitching duel that lasted five and a half hours. Third baseman Esteban Tresgallo launched a pitch over the left field wall for the 4-3 walk-off win.
“Coming in, if you would have said ‘take two out of three and take it home,’ I would have probably taken two out of three with the hype they had coming in here with the pitching staff,” Morris said. “But once you win those first two, you have to get greedy.”
Heading into the weekend, Miami was 2-6 against top-25 opponents, including a sweep at the hands of No. 1 Florida. Against the No. 3 team with the top-ranked pitching staff in the ACC in terms of ERA, the Canes proved they could hold their own.
“We’ve had more time to work on things, more time to get better as a team,” O’Brien said. “We’ve been working incredibly hard. This weekend we played with a lot of intensity, fought hard and did all the little things right. Everything kind of came together for us this weekend.”
The schedule doesn’t get any easier for Miami. Following a visit to Blacksburg for a series against Virginia Tech, the Canes travel upstate for a huge series against No. 2 Florida State.
Still, a huge sweep of UNC has the Canes heading in the right direction.
“I knew we have a great team,” Ewing said. “It was a matter of putting stuff together, and we put it together at the right time. We did everything you need to do to win.”