Canes Find a Way to Finish on Opening Night
By Christy Cabrera Chirinos
CORAL GABLES, Fla. – They entered their season opener bearing the weight of heavy expectations.
A consensus top-10 team with a roster that features five preseason All-Americans, the Hurricanes are already considered one of the teams expected to make a run to Omaha and the College World Series.
But on Friday night, they learned right from the start that that journey will have its challenges.
Baserunning mistakes took their toll. Rutgers’ pitchers held Miami’s potent offense in check. And the Scarlet Knights, who were outscored 35-7 during a three-game series here at Mark Light Field last year, weren’t about to be embarrassed again.
Still, on the strength of a career performance from pitcher Brian Van Belle, a well-timed hit from Adrian Del Castillo and some impressive defense – including an electrifying ninth-inning double play turned by second baseman Tyler Paige – the third-ranked Hurricanes hung on for a 2-1 win over Rutgers that Miami coach Gino DiMare believes will pay dividends down the road.
“I think it’s good. … When you’re facing really, really good teams, you’re not going to win 19-3. You’re going to have to play 2-1, 3-2, 4-3 games and so that puts them, right out of the gate, in the fire,” DiMare said. “We had to go to our setup guy, to our closer. We brought in [JP] Gates in a left-left matchup. Did a great job there in a crucial situation. For me, I thought it was great to get thrown right into it and get a taste of that. Our guys are going to have to learn to win games like that.”
A season ago, the Hurricanes (1-0) struggled to finish close games, coming up short in 17 games decided by three runs or less, including a 5-2 loss to Mississippi State to end the season in the Starkville Regional.
The hope now, DiMare and his players say, is that the Hurricanes – who return 22 players from last year’s squad – have learned to not only fight through some of those close games, but win them.
“One of the things we didn’t do last year was finish games,” DiMare said. “We did not finish games, especially a lot of games where we had leads and leads early, or leads in the middle of the game. We finished tonight. It was a close game and we finished it. That’s good.”
Said Paige, “It’s huge. The first win is always the best. I think we came out and played great and we’re looking forward to a great season. … We came out last year and beat [Rutgers] pretty well, so I feel like they were coming in here with a chip on their shoulder. We just had to play hard and play our game.”
The key now for the Hurricanes, through opening weekend and beyond, is to build on Friday’s performance.
They’ll face a tough opponent next week when fourth-ranked Florida comes calling. Their Atlantic Coast Conference schedule features games against top-ranked Louisville, 12th-ranked Florida State, 15th-ranked Duke and 19th-ranked Georgia Tech, among others.
In between, they’ll face upset-minded instate rivals like USF, FAU, UCF, FIU and FGCU.
Learning from their Opening Night performance will be key.
“It was pretty close, but that’s alright. Our motto [is] we have to finish,” said Del Castillo, whose bases loaded, third-inning single scored Gates and Anthony Vilar. “Those games are going to happen and we’re going to have to overcome them and win.”