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Making the Most of Midweeks

by David Villavicencio

FGCU (22-14, 8-4 C-USA) at Miami (22-13, 14-12 ACC)
Roster | Schedule

April 27, 2021 | 6:00 p.m.
Alex Rodriguez Park at Mark Light Field | Coral Gables, Fla.

CORAL GABLES, Fla. – For over four decades, you could count on the Miami Hurricanes in the NCAA postseason.

But the Canes’ NCAA-record 44-year postseason streak was snapped in 2017 after Miami dropped a few more games than it typically would against midweek opponents. Things got even worse a year later, with the Hurricanes going just 3-8 in midweek games.

When Gino DiMare took over as head coach ahead of the 2019 season, the former Miami player and longtime coach made sure his players understood the importance of taking care of business on Tuesdays and Wednesdays.

“I was very aware of ’17 and ’18 in the fact that we didn’t play well in midweeks,” DiMare said. “We had a losing record if you looked at those two years and I couldn’t put a finger on it other than we played horrible, just no life, no energy and sometimes those midweek games can do that to you. I don’t think we were focused and ready to play in those games so it was stressed from day one in ’19 how important it was because it kept us out of the tournament. We didn’t have good years, but if we would have played well in those midweek games we might have made the tournament. If you remember in ’17 and ’18, we were just on the outside looking in. I think we were one of the four teams in one of the years that just missed getting in. We’re talking about an extremely impressive streak that was snapped that was an NCAA record of 44 years. So, that was brought up in ’19 and we did a good job.”

After combining to go11-14 in midweek games in 2017-18, DiMare’s first ball club went 10-3 in midweek contests and returned to the NCAA tournament. The success in midweek games has continued under DiMare, with Miami going 19-4 in those games since he took over in 2019 – including 6-0 this season.

“That’s the way it should be, that’s the way we need it to be and it will help us down the stretch,” DiMare said. “We only have eight of them this year where in the past you’d have 14 midweek games. This year we have eight, but we need to make sure we take care of those games, because it will help us down the road when they start looking at tournament teams, and who’s hosting and who’s not. Obviously, we need to play well in our conference as well but the midweeks have been emphasized, and I have been happy with how we have played in the midweek games for the most part.” 

Miami is averaging 12 runs per game in midweek contests in 2021, including a season-high 21 against FIU on March 31. The Canes have scored 11+ runs in four of the six midweek games they’ve played in this season. Christian Del Castillo, who leads the Hurricanes in hitting with a .368 batting average, is batting .440 in midweek games. The outfielder believes Miami’s success at the plate comes from the mindset the Canes have going into the game and the confidence they have in each other to succeed as a team.

“I feel like we treat it just the same as the weekend,” Del Castillo said. “We want to compete every pitch, we want to play with energy, play with passion and we want to compete. Having trust and trusting each other has been huge for us. You know that if you don’t do the job then you have belief that the next guy will do it behind you, and that’s what a team is supposed to do.”

While Miami’s bats have been hot in midweek games, the Hurricanes have a 2.67 team ERA in those same contests. One of Miami’s biggest bats makes sure to credit the pitching and defense for the Hurricanes’ consistency in midweek games.

“I think for the most part we have been playing clean baseball the last 10 or 12 games,” first baseman Alex Toral said. “I think that we’ve played fundamental defense, I think we’ve been running the bases way better than we did at the beginning of the season and obviously our offense is coming along. As long as the pitchers throw strikes and keep the hitters, off-balance for the other team and putting the ball in play, if our defense is playing good I think that we match up well against anybody.”

Toral and fellow veteran Raymond Gil were true freshmen on the 2018 team that struggled to win against midweek opponents. Now in their fourth year at The U, those two have helped changed the mentality Miami takes into its midweek matchups.

“We’re just trying to take every game as it comes to us,” Gil said. “It sounds cliché, but we really look at it one game at a time and we try to play every game like it’s the most important of the season, which it is. We’ve been trying to take midweeks seriously because we know back in 2018 that really hurt us and our chances to get to the regionals. We know that midweek games go a long way with your rankings and RPI and all that stuff and we’re just trying to play our best, whether it’s on the weekend or in a midweek game.”

“I think guys come out with more energy and understand the importance of these games,” Toral added. “I think that overall our starting pitching has been really good this year on midweeks, and I think that we’ve thrown a number of different guys out there and they’ve all gotten the job done. It’s been a collective team effort.”

Miami played its closest midweek game of the season two weeks ago on April 14, as Anthony Vilar’s walk-off RBI single gave the Hurricanes a 3-2 win over FGCU and kept the Canes perfect in midweek contests. The Hurricanes will face the Eagles for the third time this season on Tuesday at 6 p.m., and Gil believes Miami’s key to success is to just play like Hurricanes.

“It’s really about playing our game,” Gil said. “I think we’re talented enough that if we play a clean enough game and play well in all aspects, that we should be fine against anyone. FGCU is a good team and they showed it last time we played them when the game came down to the ninth inning. We’ve just got to play a clean game and play how are we know how to play and I think we’ll be fine.”