Canes take opener, rally late in Game 2 versus North Carolina for third straight ACC series win

Sophomore pitcher Carson Palmquist pitches in the top of the third inning of Miami’s game versus the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill at Mark Light Field on March. 25, 2022.
Sophomore pitcher Carson Palmquist pitches in the top of the third inning of Miami’s game versus the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill at Mark Light Field on March. 25, 2022. Photo credit: Jared Lennon

Sophomore left-handed starter Carson Palmquist and Miami’s baseball team returned home to Coral Gables determined to continue their winning ways against more of the Atlantic Coast Conference’s finest talent.

After striking out a career-high 11 batters at Clemson, the reigning All-American earned another win with nine strikeouts to lead Miami toward an 8-5 victory in its series-opener against the 13th-ranked North Carolina Tar Heels.

“I was just going right after hitters, having fun and keeping the ball down in the zone,” Palmquist said. “When my teammates are putting runs on the board it takes stress off of my shoulders. It helps me lock in and get in cruise control.”

As his pitch count increased, the game became difficult for Palmquist, who still managed to hold the Tar Heels to one run on six hits over five innings. Palmquist threw 94 total pitches and struck out the side after falling into a second-inning jam with two runners in scoring position.

North Carolina starter Brendan Schaeffer struggled, meanwhile, giving up three runs on two hits and was pulled after 2 1/3 innings. Five different relievers were implemented for North Carolina, which made its first visit to Coral Gables since 2018.

“We put a lot of pressure on their pitcher and the entire team. They threw a lot of guys. The more we can see their pitchers, the better it is for us,” Miami head coach Gino DiMare said.

For Miami’s offense, sophomore third baseman Yohandy Morales and freshman second baseman Dorian Gonzalez Jr. carried most of the load.

Freshman infielder Dorian Gonzalez Jr. heads to home plate after hitting a home run in the bottom of the second inning of Miami’s game versus the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill at Mark Light Field on March. 25, 2022.
Freshman infielder Dorian Gonzalez Jr. heads to home plate after hitting a home run in the bottom of the second inning of Miami’s game versus the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill at Mark Light Field on March. 25, 2022. Photo credit: Jared Lennon

Gonzalez Jr. jumped on the Tar Heels early as he homered in the bottom of the second to get the Canes on the board. He followed it with an RBI single in the third inning, extending Miami’s lead to 3-0.

Morales finished 4-4 with a monster three-run home run to push the Canes out to a comfortable 6-1 lead. Morales has proven to be a force in the middle of the team’s lineup, hitting .308 with 18 RBI in 21 starts.

“Boy, he looked good at the plate…All his swings looked good. When he was taking pitches, he looked really good, he was under control,” DiMare said. “Thank goodness for YoYo’s homer…It was the difference in the game”.

The Canes were able to tack on two more insurance runs in the bottom half of the seventh as a result of sloppy defense from the Tar Heels. These two runs proved to be critical as the Heels showed life in the top of the ninth with a three-run home run to make it a three-run game.

Sophomore pitcher Andrew Walters pitches at the top of the ninth inning of Miami’s game versus the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill at Mark Light Field on March. 25, 2022.
Sophomore pitcher Andrew Walters pitches at the top of the ninth inning of Miami’s game versus the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill at Mark Light Field on March. 25, 2022. Photo credit: Jared Lennon

At this point, coach DiMare turned to closer Andrew Walters to step in and record his sixth save, clinching the series-opening win for Miami. Palmquist moved to 5-1 with the win, while Schaeffer picked up his first loss of the season after starting 2-0.

“You have to show some respect to the University of Miami Hurricanes,” Morales said. “Everyone has been doubting us, but this is a great team. We are going to prove everyone wrong”.

But on Saturday, a quieter display of offense early forced Miami into a later attack.

I’m awake now!”

After a lackluster six innings in which Miami managed only four hits, a four-run seventh saw them take the lead, bringing the crowd back to life and prompting one fan to exclaim those very words.

Romero’s double put the Canes ahead, and from there they never looked back, taking down No. 13 North Carolina, 7-3, at Mark Light Field on a beautiful Saturday night to clinch the series. The Tar Heels (18-5, 5-3 ACC) are the second top-20 team UM (16-6, 6-2 ACC) has beaten in a series this season, with the other being then-No. 18 Clemson last week.

“It’s a big conference series and it’s a great opportunity,” Miami head coach Gino DiMare said. “We maybe didn’t start exactly how we wanted, but these last two weeks have been great tests. We did a good job last night, but tonight was a little bit more of a battle.”

Down 3-2 in the bottom of the seventh, Miami doubled its hit tally after going 4-22 to start the game. Yohandy Morales’ single to center field started the hitting onslaught, driving in CJ Kayfus. Romero’s double then put the Canes up for good, 5-3, as Morales and Edgardo Villegas crossed home plate. The next at bat, Jacob Burke singled to tack on another run.

“We’ve done a really good job of scoring late in games,” DiMare said. “I didn’t see us chasing out of the zone as much. I thought we did a better job of laying off bad pitches. When they left some pitches up, guys did a good job of taking advantage of it.”

In the eighth, UM extended its lead thanks to Kayfus, who eventually scored off a wild pitch after drawing his third walk of the day. He’s been on base for all 22 games this season and leads UM in on-base percentage.

Andrew Walters registered the save, with a quick 1-2-3 ninth inning to continue his stellar play. Previously, UM was 1-5 when trailing after six innings.

But it wasn’t always pretty.

Freshman Karson Ligon, who featured a team-low 1.37 ERA coming into the game, looked shaky early, allowing a two-run shot to Johnny Castagnozzi in the first, along with three hits.

But the Hurricanes immediately responded. Edgardo Villegas’ RBI double narrowed the gap, before another double from Morales leveled the score at the end of the first.

From there, Ligon was locked in, allowing no runs the rest of the game, while racking up six strikeouts in five innings pitched.

After the first, UM had a tough time offensively. The Tar Heels came into the series boasting a 2.07 team ERA, good enough for second-lowest in the country. Right-handed pitcher Connor Bovair allowed just three hits on the night, making the Canes look like an entirely different team with him on the mound.

Though Miami’s hitting was inconsistent, Villegas remained a constant offensive force. He tallied four hits on the day to set a career high, including one RBI.

In the sixth, FIU transfer Alejandro Torres replaced Ligon and quickly let up a run that put the Canes down 3-2, setting the scene for Miami’s spectacular seventh inning. However, he pitched well the rest of the way, recording the win to improve to 2-0. North Carolina’s Kyle Mott (5-1) was tagged with the loss.

“People have been underestimating us,” Villegas said. “Everybody has been hungry. We’ve been grinding because we know we’rebetter than a lot of teams.”

With the victory, UM surpasses UNC in the coastal division standings, retaining sole possession of second place.

On Sunday, the Canes look to sweep the Tar Heels in Game 3 of the series, something they haven’t done this year. First pitch is slated for 1 p.m. at Mark Light Field.

Ethan Weintraub also contributed to the reporting of this story.