Pushing for consistency, Miami heads to Chapel Hill to face North Carolina

Right fielder Gabe Rivera bats during Miami's win over Florida Gulf Coast University on April 14 at Mark Light Field.
Right fielder Gabe Rivera bats during Miami's win over Florida Gulf Coast University on April 14 at Mark Light Field. Photo credit: Alex Carnochan

The Hurricanes have proven to fans that they can be the team so many have been looking for in 2021.

UM just needs to show that promise every weekend.

After sweeping Duke at home April 2-4, they went to Pittsburgh and dropped all three contests April 9-11. Miami then returned to Coral Gables and once again earned a sweep, earning wins against Clemson April 16-18.

With just four Atlantic Coast Conference series remaining until postseason play, now is the time to put it all together down the home stretch.

The Canes (21-11, 13-10 ACC) travel to Chapel Hill, N.C. for a three-game set at the North Carolina Tar Heels. The series schedule is different against UNC than in each series to date this season. With inclement weather forecasted for the Research Triangle region Saturday, the teams will play a doubleheader Friday, with Game 1 slated for 3 p.m. Game 2 will commence 45 minutes after the first matchup’s conclusion.

Miami will then stay put for Sunday’s regularly scheduled 12 p.m. series finale.

For UM, there isn’t much adjusting needed from a lineup or tactical angle. The Hurricanes have gone to the same nine men in each of its past seven ACC games, deviating from that combination just once in the past 12 conference matchups.

The sole difference between series like the one the Canes endured at Pitt and the one enjoyed against Clemson is how Miami’s persistent core performs.

The Hurricanes batted .409 with runners in scoring position against the Tigers and .316 overall.

At Pittsburgh, those figures stood at .275 overall but just .227 with runners on second or third. First baseman Alex Toral is fresh off ACC Player of the Week accolades. The fourth-year junior has gone 7-13 over the past four matchups, with a pair of homers April 16 that traveled over 400 feet. With a team-high .932 OPS, Toral has raised his batting average to .289 from a 2021 low of .167 and now has six homers on the year.

Redshirt junior Christian Del Castillo still leads UM in overall batting average at .364, while freshman Yohandy Morales has a team-high nine home runs.

UM’s chances at UNC will also ride on its pitching rotation, which is unchanged from a week ago.

Alejandro Rosario is an appearance removed from his fourth quality start in 2021. The freshman threw six frames against Clemson, allowing three runs, two earned and six hits while striking out nine Tiger batters. Rosario has a 5.45 earned run average, but upon taking away his two outings where he failed to record six outs, his ERA sinks to 2.31.

Jordan Dubberly (1-0, 4.75 ERA) will start Game 2 Friday and Jake Garland (4-1, 4.29 ERA) will take the mound in Sunday’s single game.

The Canes will also look towards their bullpen for another excellent weekend. Over the past 17 and 2/3 innings of relief pitching, Miami has surrendered just two earned runs. Closer Carson Palmquist (1.40 ERA, 9 saves) blew his first save opportunity April 18 against Clemson, but allowed just one earned run in three frames and was awarded the win in UM’s sweep-clinching win. Five bullpen arms have made appearances in the past four games without earned runs.

Behind enemy lines

North Carolina comes into the series at Boshamer Stadium with a 18-16 overall record and a 12-12 ACC mark under first-year head coach Scott Forbes. The Tar Heels lost two out of three games at Pitt a week ago. They also suffered a 6-3 loss to Coastal Carolina Tuesday night.

Redshirt sophomore Austin Love will pitch for the Heels in Game 1 Friday afternoon. He takes a 4.55 ERA into the series, having three earned runs in six and 1/3 frames at Pittsburgh a week ago.

Like last week, the Canes will see a lefty in Game 2 of the series. Unlike a week ago however, this southpaw will be making his first career start. Redshirt freshman Shawn Rapp carries a 3.92 ERA, a 1.69 WHIP and 16 appearances into the doubleheader nightcap, but all his stats are from the bullpen. His average appearance length stands at under one and 1/3 frames.

UNC has yet to name a starter for Sunday.

Freshman Colby Wilkerson leads North Carolina in hitting with a .344 average. Sophomore Will Schroeder bats .333 and fellow sophomore Justice Thomas is at .326. St. Thomas Aquinas grad Caleb Roberts is slashing .306/.449/.595 with a team-high nine home runs, and senior Dallas Tessar enters the weekend with a clean .300 average.

The Heels have won seven of the past ten games against Miami since 2017, including each of the past three series. At the ACC Tournament in 2019, UM failed to hold onto a 5-0 lead, falling 7-5 in 11 innings. The loss likely cost the Canes an NCAA tournament regional at home.

Pennant race update

It’s currently a five-team race in the ACC Coastal Division.

With 12 games to go in conference, the Canes currently sit in fourth in the seven-team division.

They’re a game and a half behind Virginia Tech, who leads with a 15-9 league record. Pitt and Georgia Tech sit between the Hokies and the Hurricanes with a 14-10 record each. Fifth place UNC is a half-game behind UM.

Miami returns from Chapel Hill to face Florida Gulf Coast at Mark Light Field, Tuesday at 6 p.m. UM will then repack its bags for a three-game series at Boston College from April 30 to May 2.