Morales homers late, No. 8 Miami holds on against No. 3 Virginia for 12th straight win

Sophomore Yohandy Morales celebrates his game-winning home run with teammates in the seventh inning of No. 8 Miami’s 5-4 win over No. 3 Virginia on Saturday, April 9, 2022 at Mark Light Field.
Sophomore Yohandy Morales celebrates his game-winning home run with teammates in the seventh inning of No. 8 Miami’s 5-4 win over No. 3 Virginia on Saturday, April 9, 2022 at Mark Light Field. Photo credit: Miami Athletics

With one swing of the bat in the seventh inning, sophomore third baseman Yohandy Morales provided No. 8 Miami with the needed hit to carry on the country’s second-longest winning streak.

The Miami native drilled a game-deciding solo home run, causing a sold-out Mark Light Field crowd to erupt late in a 5-4 Hurricanes win over No. 3 Virginia on Saturday.

“I don’t know what was going through my head,” Morales said. “I blacked out and I threw the bat. It was an emotional feeling hitting that home run to take the lead. I knew our bullpen was going to come in and shut them down.”

Morales, who hit his first home run of the series Friday, marked his seventh of the season. Freshman designated hitter Zach Levenson produced a solo shot in the fourth, slicing a two-run deficit in half.

But unlike its come-from-behind win to open the series, Miami (25-6, 12-2 Atlantic Coast Conference) needed three runs instead of two to rally for another.

A 2-0 lead wasn’t safe against the top hitting team in college baseball, which struck back in the fourth.

Virginia left fielder Alex Tappen, who struggled in an 0-for-4 start to the series Friday, hit a three-run double down the left field line to add pressure on Miami freshman starter Karson Ligon. Sophomore right-hander Alejandro Torres filled Ligon while the Hurricanes began to inch their way back.

In the sixth, with two runners in scoring position following a passed ball, Levenson scored on a wild pitch, evening the contest at four.

The play reenergized the 3,550 fans in attendance to watch the ACC’s hottest team.

“The crowd was electric today,” Morales said. “The fans fired us up. Inning one through nine, they were loud. We have the best fans in the country.”

UM’s five relievers held Virginia (26-5, 9-5 ACC) scoreless after its four-run surge, continuing 7 2/3 innings of scoreless relief pitching from the series-opening victory.

Once sophomore right-hander Ronaldo Gallo and veteran JP Gates worked for a scoreless seventh, DiMare signaled for freshman Gage Ziehl. The Macedon, New York, native retired three straight batters on a pair of strikeouts and a groundout, holding the Cavaliers to without a hit for a second consecutive night.

A 10th save was then awarded to sophomore closer Andrew Walters. The ACC’s leader in saves eliminated Virginia’s final scoring threat with two strikeouts and a forced groundout in the final frame.

“It was a total team effort,” Miami head coach Gino DiMare said. “I gave the MVP to the entire team. A lot of guys contributed. Our bullpen was outstanding. Every guy came in and did an excellent job.”

Gallo, who entered with a 5.56 ERA, earned his first win of the season. Brandon Neeck of Virginia was hit with the loss, falling to 2-2 after allowing Morales’ home run.

With its fifth straight conference series win, Miami has the chance to sweep Virginia Sunday afternoon and earn a 13th consecutive victory. Its winning streak now stands as the longest in over four years, prior to the start of DiMare’s coaching tenure and in the final year of 25-year coach and two-time champion Jim Morris.

“Even now, people are still doubting us,” Morales said. “We are just going to keep proving them all wrong. Everybody keeps doubting us because we’re a young team, but we have a lot of fight in us. We aren’t satisfied yet.”

Losing four games at home all season, the most recent to Boston College in their ACC opener back on March 11, a Hurricanes win Sunday would complete a third straight sweep over an ACC opponent. Miami has yet to achieve this since 2014.

Having earned his first win of the season at Duke Sunday, sophomore right-handed pitcher Alejandro Rosario is prepared to take the mound Sunday. First pitch is scheduled for 1 p.m.

“The team is playing with a lot of confidence,” DiMare said. “There hasn’t been a lot of panic. We answered back, we battled back and our bullpen held them.”