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Canes Drop Heartbreaker in ACC Opener

by David Villavicencio

CHARLOTTE, N.C. – The Miami Hurricanes dropped a heartbreaker in their opening game of pool play at the 2021 ACC Baseball Championship.

Tied at 2 in the bottom of the ninth, Duke’s Michael Rothenberg hit a walk-off solo homer upset the Canes, 3-2, before 2,914 fans inside Truist Field.

“Tough one there. I thought the game was pretty well in all phases except for the fact that we didn’t do a good job offensively there with leaving way too many guys on base,” head coach Gino DiMare said. “We had some opportunities: man on second, nobody out, guys in scoring position, one out, two outs, but we just left 11 guys on base. I told our guys multiple times, ‘It’s going to bite us if we don’t watch out.’ We left the guys on base, we didn’t capitalize, we didn’t get insurance runs. Can’t expect our bullpen to be perfect every game and that was the case today.”

All-ACC closer Carson Palmquist was in his second inning of work for Miami when Rothenberg hit a 1-2 fastball over the left field fence for the game-winning walk-off home run.

“Obviously, one pitch, one hit and that does it for them,” DiMare said. “We’ve got to turn the page. It’s one game, it’s not the end of the season. We’ve got to be ready to play tomorrow against FSU. It’s a big game because going 1-1 in here is a lot different in my opinion than going 0-2.”

The game was a pitcher’s duel, with offense hard to come by for both the Hurricanes and Blue Devils. Miami starter Jake Smith was brilliant, scattering two hits while striking out six batters over five shutout innings.

Smith’s counterpart, Duke starter Jack Carey, got himself out of trouble often against Miami. The Canes stranded six runners over the first four innings, but Miami finally broke thru in the top of the sixth. Christian Del Castillo led off the inning with a double to left and came around to score when Yohandy Morales followed with an RBI double deep to center.

“We were hitting balls hard, they just weren’t falling,” Morales said. “Moving into the game, we were squaring balls up and eventually they started to fall. I don’t really think he had us off-balance or anything. We’re just hitting balls that weren’t dropping.”

Alex Toral’s groundout to the right side allowed Morales to advance to third and the freshman scored on a fielder’s choice when Raymond Gil grounded to short and Duke’s Ethan Murray’s poor throw home allowed the Canes to double their advantage to two runs.

With a 2-0 lead, Spencer Bodanza took over on the mound and tossed a scoreless sixth inning but the Blue Devils rallied against the lefty in the top of the seventh. Duke opened the inning with a single and a double and both runners scored when Rothenberg singled up the middle to tie the game at 2.

“Spencer was a little off today, but he’s been really, really good for us,” DiMare said. “Those guys in the back end of our pen have been really good.”

Blue Devils closer Marcus Johnson threw three shutout innings and was the pitcher of record when Rothenberg homered. With the victory, Duke won Pool D and advanced to the semifinals of the ACC Baseball Championship.

The Hurricanes are back in action Friday to conclude pool play against fifth-seed Florida State. First pitch against the Seminoles is scheduled for 3 p.m.