Below a drizzle turned clear Friday night sky, the No. 3 Miami Hurricanes began their quest to new heights on opening night of their most anticipated season in years, picking up the first win of 2020 with a suspenseful 2-1 victory over the visiting Rutgers Scarlet Knights.
It was the 13th straight win on opening night for UM, the last six of which have come against the New Jersey foe. But it wasn’t the anticipated offensive explosion fans may have wanted. After the Hurricanes opened scoring in the third inning with a bases loaded two-run RBI single by Adrian Del Castillo, the offense couldn’t get into a consistent rhythm.
“Certainly happy with the win. We’re going to have to win games like this,” said head coach Gino DiMare. “All in all, good game, certainly like to score more runs.”
“I think we we’re ready,” Del Castillo said. “We were hitting good, [but Rutgers] would catch [our hits].”
On his RBI with three balls, Del Castillo recalls not wanting to simply walk in a run.
“[DiMare] gave me the take sign…I got a good pitch to hit and hit it up the middle.”
To match the tension over the quiet bats at the Light, Knights first baseman Chris Brito knocked a home run to center field in the eighth to trim Miami’s lead in half. On top of that, the Canes lost two runners Friday on base stealing attempts.
“We left runs out there because we did not base run the way we should and we had too many guys thrown out,” DiMare said.
With the bats limited, UM instead turned to its pitching to clinch the win.
Brian Van Belle threw six innings for a career-high 10 strikeouts, allowing four hits and no walks on 86 total pitches, while allowing just two runners to reach scoring position during his outing.
“It felt good to get the first win under my belt,” Van Belle said. “It was a team win. Everybody did their job I feel.”
The redshirt senior cited his changeup as a key factor in his dominant appearance.
“[He] pounded the strike zone, got ahead of hitters almost every time, very efficient,” DiMare said.
And after Tyler Keysor gave up a home run and a walk in the eighth, DiMare banked on situational tactics by going with two-way left-hander JP Gates out of the bullpen to face fellow southpaw Richie Schiekofer. Gates struck out the Knights’ right fielder before handing the ball to Daniel Federman.
Federman gave up only one walk and no hits while collecting the save with the help of a 4-6-3 double play in the ninth inning.
“Hopefully it’s in the Top 10 [on SportsCenter],” Del Castillo said on the play.
“We’re going to have to play better defense than last year,” DiMare said. “If you pitch and play good defense, it takes a lot of pressure off of your team.”
Rutgers starter Harry Rutkowski limited the Miami offense to just two runs and five hits in his five frames of work, striking out five Canes and walking one.
“[Rutkowski] was much better this year,” DiMare said about the pitcher who is a year removed from allowing five earned runs against Miami last season.
Rutkowski’s relief kept the UM bats in check as well, which combined for three additional scoreless frames.
No Hurricane collected more than one base hit on the night, although the eight Miami hits were distributed evenly throughout the lineup, with only leadoff hitter Jordan Lala failing to reach base Friday.
The season-ending knee injury to star Freddy Zamora announced Thursday forced DiMare to adjust parts of his lineup card in anticipation of the opening game. Vilar, who started most of 2019 at second base, shifted over to Zamora’s natural shortstop position. This left junior Tyler Paige to make just his fifth career start at second.
Putting Paige in the lineup may have surprised a contingent of fans, but the .111 hitter in 2019 registered a single and was instrumental in the field, making the initial assist in the critical double play in the ninth inning. DiMare said that defense was the deciding factor in playing him Friday.
The teams will square off again for Game 2 of the series at 7 p.m. Saturday night at the Mark Light Field, where Chris McMahon (3-2, 3.73 ERA in ’19) will face Tommy Genuario (3-5, 3.14 ERA in ’19).