Miami bats heat up in sweep of Clemson, but consistency will be key for remainder of season

Gabe Rivera (43) greets teammate Alex Toral (30) after the first baseman hit a home run against FGCU on April 14 at Mark Light Field.
Gabe Rivera (43) greets teammate Alex Toral (30) after the first baseman hit a home run against FGCU on April 14 at Mark Light Field. Photo credit: Alex Carnochan

A second-straight sweep at home for the Miami Hurricanes brought a sigh of relief for many, if not all, and it appeared as though the bats at last heated up, especially looking back at the number of Canes who tallied long balls this weekend.

“Getting sweeps is not easy,” Miami head coach Gino DiMare said. “Of course we’ve had it done to us times, but we need to run some off ourselves here.”

UM did a considerable amount of damage on Friday and Saturday against the Clemson Tigers, as one swing of the bat from first baseman Alex Toral culminated into a moonshot over the Ponce de Leon garage to spread the highlight like wildfire nationally. The fifth-inning, 473-foot homer was one of two home runs for Toral, as he had unloaded a 432-foot rope a frame earlier.

Looking for a change-up on his second home run, Toral got his pitch and wasted no time sending it out.

“As soon as I made contact, I actually stayed while watching this one,” Toral said. “Because I knew I got it pretty good.”

The two homers, along with a 7-13 overall week at the plate, earned the first baseman an ACC Player of the Week accolade.

Miami hit just .219 in the sweep-clinching win Sunday, but batted .344 Friday and .382 Saturday.

“Very good situational hitting,” said DiMare after the Canes clinched the series win Saturday night. Indeed, with runners in scoring position, UM batted .409 all weekend.

Though center fielder Tony Jenkins had only hit .111 before his game-winning sacrifice fly in the ninth inning Sunday, Miami once again earned its stripes in another pivotal moment, pulling out its second walk-off win of the week at The Light.

Jenkins, who has mainly played in a pinch-hitting role due to his offensive woes at the dish for the majority of the season, received his fair share of praise from DiMare and company.

“Winning one-run games, you know those are very important,” said DiMare. “Those are going to be more your type of games you’re going to play later in the tournament.”

The resurgent plate attack and timely hitting in crunch-time cannot be left in the dust, however. Outnumbering the Tigers were the Canes 25-7 after having been avalanched by Pittsburgh’s 30 runs in the prior road series.

Part of that now may have been due to the wind blowing all over the outfield, and registering a total of 13 hits against the Tigers’ left-handed starter in Keyshawn Askew remains a crucial takeaway.

Miami may have found its go-to lineup in the series as well. After experimenting with a number of different lineup combinations earlier in the season, DiMare has found a core group of nine to put out for each of the past seven Atlantic Coast Conference matchups.

The Canes also delivered on the mound, after seeing their starters combine for only nine-and-one-thirds innings at Pittsburgh last weekend. Closer Carson Palmquist faced his biggest adversity of the season, blowing a save situation for the first time in 2021 when he allowed Clemson to tie Game 3 of the series in the seventh inning. Still, the Stopper of the Year candidate remained composed and allowed no further damage, setting up Jenkins’ ninth-inning walk-off and earning his first win of the season.

“[Palmquist] wasn’t at his best, but he’s been almost unhuman-like up to this point. We talked to the team about this weeks and weeks ago, that there is going to be a day where he’s off, and we have to make sure we pick him up,” DiMare said.

On having the game winning RBI, Jenkins said, “It was just great to be in that position…you know it was an even better feeling to get that done for the team.”

Miami’s bullpen has allowed just two earned runs in its past 17 and ⅔ frames. Daniel Federman, who has struggled as a starter this year with a 6.75 earned run average in starts, has turned into a consistent middle and long relief weapon, where he gave UM five and ⅔ innings of work without a run this week. Spencer Bodanza, Alex McFarlane, Andrew Walters and Anthony Arguelles also had shutout bullpen outings over the past four contests.

Still, the Hurricanes will need to consistently replicate this pitching success if they are to reach their goals in 2021. While Miami’ starting pitching recorded a 2.81 ERA in the sweep over Clemson and a 3.37 ERA two weekends ago while sweeping Duke, UM will need to avoid weekends like they one suffered a week ago at Pittsburgh, where the staff combined for an ERA of 11.25.

Setbacks like the one suffered in the Steel City as well as the Florida State series explain why the Canes–in spite of showing their flashes of brilliance–still sit modestly in fourth in the ACC Coastal Division. Miami needs to play well every series and avoid the no-shows seen against the Panthers and the Seminoles if they are a team destined to go deep in the postseason.

Miami has the opportunity to make another statement when they face a familiar or formidable foe on the road this weekend.

The North Carolina Tar Heels have been a thorn in UM’s side for years. They’ve won three of the past series against the Canes and seven of the past 10 games overall. Miami blew a 5-0 lead in the teams’ past matchup–an extra innings ACC Tournament game in 2019–that likely cost UM a chance to host an NCAA regional.

In the win column, UNC is tied with Miami in the ACC standings and just a game back overall. The programs are familiar with each other over the years. For Miami, a series win in Chapel Hill is a prerequisite. It will be the season’s biggest measuring stick in determining if the Hurricanes’ displayed strengths are legitimate as they gear up for the home stretch and glide into the postseason.

Austin Pert and Wyatt Kopelman reported this story.