Diaz Guides No. 11 Baseball to Game 1 Victory
Clemson, S.C. • Doug Kingsmore Stadium
|C. Diaz (7-0)
|B. Garcia (12)
|Wilkerson, S., Okey, C.
|Collins, Z. (7)
|Eusebio, E. (6), Michelangeli, E. (9), Carey, D. (17), Collins, Z. 2 (36)
CLEMSON, S.C. — Led by another dominant performance on the road from junior lefthander Chris Diaz, No. 11 Miami captured a 5-2 victory over No. 20 Clemson in game one of the team’s series at Doug Kingsmore Stadium.
Diaz tossed 7.2 strong innings, allowing just two unearned runs with five strikeouts. He surrendered just four hits on the night, matching his win total from last season and improving his personal record to a perfect 7-0 this spring. The team-leading seventh home run of the season from freshman Zack Collins slugger widened a 3-2 game to a 5-2 lead in the ninth, where freshman Bryan Garcia shut down the Tigers and recorded his 12th save.
“I knew coming to Clemson this was going to be a huge series for us, especially in the ACC,” Diaz said. “Being able to go out there and keep my team close was big for us. I felt good the whole game, and I was throwing strikes when it counted.”
With the victory, Miami remained in first place with a 17-5 league record and improved its overall record to an impressive 30-13.
“It was a really good team effort. Diaz threw great, and a bunch of guys came up with big hits,” head coach Jim Morris said. “We played really good defense, too. It was a combination of everything – just a good team win.”
It was the Hurricanes who struck first Friday night, as sophomore Ricky Eusebio – making his second consecutive start in centerfield – helped put Miami on the board.
Senior Tyler Palmer, who delivered the game-winning hit against FAU in the ninth inning Wednesday night, continued his hot streak with a one-out single to open the action. After Palmer recorded his team-leading 15th steal of the spring, freshman Zack Collins took first on a walk and senior Brad Fieger loaded the bases on an infield single.
Facing a 2-2 count with two outs, Eusebio was plunked by a wild offspeed pitch from Matthew Crownover (6-4) to force in a run, as Miami jumped out to an early 1-0 lead.
The plate appearance continued an impressive stretch for Eusebio, who recorded three hits and three RBI last time out against FAU. He finished Friday night’s matchup 3-for-4, matching a career high for hits.
The way Diaz was pitching in the early going, a one-run lead appeared sufficient. After issuing two walks in the first inning, Diaz retired 11 of the next 12 batters he faced, cruising into the middle innings against the top offense in the conference.
But Clemson took its first lead of the night in the fifth, when a bases-loaded error scored two unearned runs.
A leadoff double from Tigers’ second baseman Steve Wilkerson signaled trouble for Diaz, but the lefthander got a flyout from Shane Kennedy and a strikeout of Jay Baum to nearly get out of the jam unharmed. A two-out walk and a hit-by-pitch loaded the bases, however, and a hard-hit grounder from Tyler Krieger made its way past Brad Fieger at first to make the score 2-1 in favor of the hosts.
Diaz would buckle down, however, and got Clemson slugger Garrett Boulware to ground out with runners on second and third to hold the deficit at one run.
The Hurricanes would immediately respond, regaining the lead on a successful sequence of small ball in the next frame. Singles from Eusebio and sophomore Brandon Lopez put two runners on base, and a sacrifice bunt from Alex Hernandez advanced both runners into scoring position. Edgar Michelangeli, making his fourth straight start at third base in place of injured Johnny Ruiz, then tied the game on an RBI single to left.
With runners on the corners and just one out, senior Dale Carey put Miami ahead once again. The Marietta, Ga., native dropped a pretty bunt into a clear patch of grass near first base and beat out the throw, scoring Lopez from third to give Miami a 3-2 lead.
“I always believe in the offense. It doesn’t matter what inning, they’re always going to put up a fight,” Diaz said. “For them to come back right after I put up a two-spot was huge for us. It put us in position to win the game.”
Diaz gave way to Garcia with two outs in the eighth, and the freshman made things interesting after allowing a double to Clemson catcher Chris Okey to put runners on second and third. The righthander worked his way out of it, getting Wilkerson on a groundout to end the threat.
“Bryan has been awesome all year. He’s a freshman, and for him to step up into that role was huge for us,” Diaz said.
Collins took some pressure off Garcia in the ninth when he crushed a two-run home run off Clemson reliever Clay Bates to widen Miami’s lead to 5-2. With Carey on base, Collins hit a no-doubter into the gap in right-center to help keep Miami in control.
“I knew the reliever was throwing hard, he was up to 96 [miles per hour] at one point,” Collins said. “He threw a 2-0 fastball up in the zone and down the middle. If you put a barrel on it, it’s going to go.”
Collins said it felt good to give Diaz and the pitching staff some late breathing room, especially after a dominant outing against one of the best offenses in the ACC.
“Everytime Chris goes out there, he competes and gives it his all,” Collins said. “He always comes out on top. No matter if he has his stuff or not, he’s going to compete to his best. It felt great to give them a lift.”
No. 11 Miami continues its series with No. 20 Clemson Saturday night at Doug Kingsmore Stadium. First pitch for game two, scheduled for broadcast on CSS with ESPN3 simulcast, is set for 7 p.m.