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No. 21 Miami Keeps Tournament Championship Hopes Alive

May 26, 2012

7661503.jpeg?1337998293
  1 2 3 4 5 6 7
8 9 R H E W: E. Whaley (4-4)
Hurricanes 0 1 0 1 0 1 3 0 0 6 9 1 L: B. Holmes (7-3)
Wake 0 1 0 1 0 0 0 0 1 3 9 2 S: E. Nedeljkovic (4)
Batting

2B: B. Fieger (13), C. Mack (5) | P. Blair
3B:
C. Mack (2)
HR:
R. Rodriguez (3) | C. Lopez
RBI:
R. Rodriguez 2 (18), B. Fieger 2 (35), P. O’Brien (39), C. Mack (31)| C. Lopez, B. Armour 2

GREENSBORO, N.C. — A three-run seventh inning broke open a big win for the No. 21 Hurricanes at NewBridge Bank Park, as Miami kept their Atlantic Coast Conference Tournament Championship hopes alive by defeating Wake Forest 6-3.

Watchful eyes now turn to Saturday night’s 7 p.m. contest between second-seeded North Carolina and third-seeded North Carolina State. With both of those teams sporting a 1-1 record, the Hurricanes need a win from the Tar Heels over the Wolfpack to ensure their spot in Sunday’s championship game. Both Miami and North Carolina would possess 2-1 records in Pool B, with Miami owning the tiebreaker after taking down the Tar Heels 5-3 on Thursday.

If it weren’t for a gutsy performance from junior righthander Eric Whaley, Miami might never have had the chance to regain a late lead. The Pompano Beach, Fla. native came one out shy of matching his career-high, tossing eight strong frames in an outing that saved Miami’s chances at a tournament title. He scattered seven hits and allowed only two runs, striking out six batters while walking none.

“I felt like my stuff was getting better throughout the game, and I felt better going out there each inning,” Whaley said. “I was spotting on my fastball pretty good inside and out, and my slider was pretty good tonight.”

After seven innings and 110 pitches, Head Coach Jim Morris was prepared to pull the righthander in favor of his bullpen. But Whaley approached Morris in the dugout, asking to remain in the game. Morris relented, and Whaley (4-4) completed his eighth and final frame on his 129th pitch off the rubber.

“He came to me saying that he wanted to stay in the game and that he could get it done,” Coach Morris said. “I don’t do that a lot, but he deserved that opportunity to stay in the game because he was pitching very well.”

Though Whaley’s counterpart Brian Holmes (7-3) kept Miami in check for most of his outing, holding the Canes to three runs through six innings, Miami exploded for four hits and two runs off Holmes and reliever Justin Van Grouw in the momentum-shifting seventh. Junior outfielder Chantz Mack capped a three-hit, three-run night with a big RBI double, while sophomore third baseman Brad Fieger tacked on an RBI single and senior outfielder Rony Rodriguez a sacrifice fly to increase the decisive Hurricanes’ lead.

Mack, who finished the night 3-for-4 with a double, triple and three runs scored, came up a homerun short of the cycle. The Homestead, Fla. native has four extra-base hits in three ACC Tournament games, leading the Hurricanes (36-20) with six basehits during their three-game visit to NewBridge Bank Park. With some help from the Tar Heels, Miami will be looking for a fourth contest on Sunday.

“I just feel really comfortable at the plate. I’m just sitting back on the breaking balls and I’m on time for the fastballs,” Mack said after the game. “I just feel really good that I’m able to help the team.”

The Hurricanes jumped out to a 1-0 lead in the game’s second inning, as Rodriguez belted a solo shot off Wake Forest starter Brian Holmes over the leftfield fence. After connecting for only one homerun in his first 38 games of the season, the Miami, Fla. native now has two longballs in his last six contests.

Having fallen behind early, the Demon Deacons would strike back to tie it up at one in the game’s next half-inning. Designated hitter Charlie Morgan reached on an error charged to freshman shortstop Jarred Mederos on an errant throw to lead off the inning, but Whaley recorded back-to-back outs and nearly escaped the jam. A hard-hit ball that from catcher Brett Armour then glanced off the glove of junior infielder Stephen Perez and rolled into the outfield, plating Morgan from third to tie the game.

Senior slugger Peter O’Brien recorded his first RBI since April 14 to help Miami regain a 2-1 lead in the top of the fourth. O’Brien, who marked his return from an 18-game absence in Thursday’s win over North Carolina, connected on an opposite-field single that plated Mack from his perch at third base. Just as they had done earlier in the game, however, the Demon Deacons would strike back to tie the game at 2-2 in the bottom of the frame.

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Then two teams would remain mostly deadlocked until the seventh, when Miami broke the game wide open by tacking on three late runs. AJ Salcines and Eric Nedeljkovic combined for another dramatic ninth inning, as Salcines allowed Wake Forest to plate a run that cut the Hurricanes lead to 6-3. But Nedeljkovic came on to record the final out on a weak groundball hit to Fieger, sealing his fourth save of the year and another emotional win for the Hurricanes.

“Tonight I thought we played very well as a team. Of course Whaley had an outstanding start, and he pitched very well,” Coach Morris said. “We played very solid defense, and Chantz got some big hits for us. I just thought it was a complete game for us as a team.”

After dropping their tournament opener to No. 15 North Carolina State in devastating fashion Wednesday, it seemed improbable Miami would be in a chance to extend their stay in Greensboro past Friday. But after coming back to win their final two games of pool play, the Hurricanes are one decision away from making their first trip to the ACC Tournament Championship since their title run in 2008.

“We just have to take it one game at a time. We knew that if we won the next two, we’d still have a chance (to play in the title game),” Whaley said after the game. “Now we just have to hope that UNC can pull one out for us.”