Lala Leads No. 17 Canes Past Duke, 4-3
CORAL GABLES, Fla. – On a night when Miami crushed three solo homers, it was a base hit off the first base bag that made the difference in the No. 17 Hurricanes’ 4-3 win over Duke.
Freshman Jordan Lala faced a full count with two outs in the bottom of the eighth and scorched a grounder that bounced off of first base and Matt Mervis could not handle the tricky hop. Pinch runner Willy Escala sprinted home from second base to score the winning run for the Hurricanes (37-16, 17-11 ACC).
“It always has a shot if it’s put in play,” Lala said. “He kind of had my number that last at-bat and I just stayed in my head that I can’t let this guy beat me and he’s not going to beat me this at-bat and it ended up working out for us.”
A resilient Miami team battled back from two separate deficits on Thursday night. Duke (29-23, 14-14 ACC) took a 1-0 lead on a double steal with two outs in the top of the second, as Chris Crabtree stole second and Michael Rothenberg swiped home. Second baseman Anthony Vilar’s throw back to Michael Amditis at home was on time, but the Miami catcher could not hold on as he tried to swipe tag the runner and the Blue Devils gained a one-run advantage early.
Alex Toral tied the game at 1 in the bottom of the second, crushing a solo homer to center that was his 20thof the season. The sophomore first baseman has the most home runs by a Miami player since Harold Martinez hit 21 as a sophomore in 2010.
“There’s always a possibility if I get the right pitch and the right location and my timing is on,” Toral said. “I’m just trying to put together a good at-bat for my team.”
Toral, who ranks second in the ACC in home runs, is the 10thdifferent Hurricane to post a 20-homer season and also set a program record in the BBCOR bat era (2011-present). He has hit four home runs over Miami’s last three games.
“You can tell he’s just very comfortable and very confident,” head coach Gino DiMare said. “Confident is probably the best word to use there. He’s extremely confident right now and I can just that watching him and I’m sure the dugout absolutely is feeling the same thing.”
The Blue Devils jumped back ahead thanks to a leadoff solo homer from Michael Rothenberg in the top of the fourth. The sophomore catcher homered in four consecutive games for Duke and two innings later drove in his second run of the game with a base hit to right that made it 3-1 Duke against Miami starter Brian Van Belle.
“Van Belle has thrown better, but he threw solid,” DiMare said. “He was good enough to win. We walked one guys and struck out 11 as a staff. That’s really good.”
But the long ball brought Miami even once again, as Toral crushed a solo homer to record his second multi-homer game of the season and Amditis followed with a solo shot to left that tied the game at 3 through six innings.
“I just felt great to come through for my team there,” Toral said. “It’s a close game and those two home
runs really meant a lot to us, especially when we were down both times. It just felt good to boost the team’s energy. It just feels great to do it.”
Daniel Federman earned the win for Miami, striking out five over two scoreless innings of relief before turning the ball over to Gregory Veliz in the top of the ninth.
But Veliz would not have had a lead to protect without a productive bottom of the eighth by the Hurricanes. Toral got things started with a walk, battling back from an 0-2 count to earn a free pass. Escala was called in to pinch run and advanced to second on a sacrifice bunt by Amditis. With two outs, Lala delivered the go-ahead RBI single that put Miami ahead for good.
“That eighth inning that Alex led off, everyone is going to remember his two home runs, but that at-bat was huge,” DiMare said.
The junior Veliz earned his team-leading ninth save, but not without some help from the hero Lala. The freshman, who played the first eight innings in center field, moved to left field in the top of the ninth and threw a dart to third base to throw out pinch runner Damon Lux for the second out of the inning. Veliz struck out RJ Schreck on four pitches to close out the game and secure the series opener for Miami.
“We practice that all the time in practice,” Lala said. “Gino emphasizes getting good jumps on the ball and I think I got a pretty good jump and he emphasizes throwing through the cut and that’s definitely what I did and one-hopped right to third base.”
Miami shortstop Freddy Zamora returned to the lineup for the first time since April 20thand finished 3-for-4 on the night.
“Almost a month and here he comes and gets three hits,” DiMare said. “The guy is just a great player. He just can play and he had a good play defensively. He made a good play coming after a ball, so very happy to see him back.”
Miami ace RHP Evan McKendry (6-1, 4.53 ERA) will make his first start since April 19 this Friday, opposing Duke LHPBill Chillari(2-3, 5.09 ERA) at 7 p.m. on Friday. Miami sophomore RHP Chris McMahon (2-2, 4.06 ERA) will take the mound Saturday against sophomore RHP Bryce Jarvis (4-0, 4.53 ERA) at 1 p.m.