The Miami Hurricanes were the darlings of the college baseball world after upsetting the preseason consensus No. 1 Florida Gators on opening weekend.
Instead of building on a successful start to 2021, the Canes crashed back to earth, losing two of three to Virginia Tech this past weekend. The No. 6 Canes had won 11 straight meetings against the Hokies coming into the series.
Virginia Tech was pegged to finish sixth in the Atlantic Coast Conference Coastal Division heading into the season. UM (3-3, 1-2 ACC) now stares down five consecutive weekend series against teams in the D1 Baseball top 25.
“We’re still a team trying to find itself, trying to figure out the bullpen,” Miami head coach Gino DiMare said. “It was a total team effort in terms of us not getting the job done. We didn’t play good defense, we’re still struggling with our lineup, trying to figure it out.”
If Miami is trying to find itself, trying to figure out anything, or just struggling, then some fast fixing is needed, or else it’s in for a rude awakening. The modified 2021 schedule sees the number of conference games increase from 30 to 36 and the frequency of non-league matchups cut nearly in half, from 26 to 14, leaving very little breathing room or margin for error moving forward.
“[Virginia Tech] just had a lot more energy than us the whole weekend,” junior Anthony Vilar said. “We scored early, we scored in the first inning every game and then we just stopped scoring and they had the energy to fight back. And we just weren’t able today to come back and score some runs with them.”
Vilar is right. Virginia Tech looked more interested and engaged than UM throughout the three-game series. Anyone sitting above the Hokie dugout could feel its energy all weekend.
Miami took a 4-2 lead in the sixth inning Sunday and had appeared to capture momentum. But Virginia Tech blocked any distractions from the noisy Mark Light Field crowd.
Even after falling behind, a VT player loudly encouraged teammates to move onto the next frame and that they would quickly respond with three runs. Not only was that player proven correct in the seventh inning, but it visibly deflated the Canes when it happened. Hokie Gavin Cross then hit a two-run home run in the eighth, and the visiting team’s deserved celebration took any remaining wind out of the Hurricanes’ sails.
“We thought we had the game under control, but little by little it started getting out of hand. The energy from our team came out late in the innings when we needed it,” Vilar said.
Miami’s series loss is especially painful, emotionally nullifying the signature series win at UF one week earlier. All week long after UM’s triumph in Gainesville, DiMare lauded his team’s mental toughness and resiliency on conference calls with the media as well as on D1 Baseball’s Sidearm Delivery Podcast.
But it was the Hokies instead who played with house money, winning the mental toughness battle and carrying a confident edge knowing they’d come out on top. Miami looked as if it had spent too much time reading headlines all week.
“You can’t just go on the field, throw your gloves out there and think you’re going to win,” DiMare said on the D1 Baseball podcast a day before the VT series opener. It’s unclear whether Miami went against that proverb, or if they just got outplayed by a pesky conference foe.
What’s seen next of the Canes will be a barometer for just what can be expected over the remainder of the long season. They head to Raleigh, North Carolina for their next ACC series. No. 13 North Carolina State is similarly left do some soul-searching after suffering a home sweep at the hands of Georgia Tech. When the Canes and the Wolfpack meet in a week, we’ll see which team is hungrier to put recent disappointments in the rearview mirror.