For the first time since 2008 and for the 24th time in program history, the Hurricanes will make the trip to Omaha, Nebraska as one of the final eight teams remaining in the 2015 NCAA Baseball Championship.
No. 5 national seed Miami, who won its super regional opener 3-2 Friday at Mark Light Field, toppled VCU 10-3 Saturday afternoon to become the first team to punch its tickets to TD Ameritrade Park and the “Promised Land” of college baseball.
The College World Series appearance will mark the 12th for head coach Jim Morris in his 22 seasons at the helm in Miami.
“Just…wow. You know it’s been a long time since we’ve been to Omaha, so needless to say, we’re very excited, our coaches are very excited,” Morris said. “Our players don’t know what’s getting ready to hit them, something that they will remember for the rest of their lives.”
Miami overcame the shortest start of the season by All-ACC lefthander Thomas Woodrey in the win, largely thanks to a stunning cameo from veteran righthander Sam Abrams early in the contest.
With the game tied at an uneasy 3-3 in the bottom of the third inning, Woodrey loaded the bases with no outs on a walk, double and hit batter. Abrams was called upon in relief and promptly recorded back-to-back swinging strikeouts of the Rams’ Darian Carpenter and Jimmy Kerrigan, somewhat easing the nerves of the 3,680 in attendance.
When he induced a flyout to right from James Bunn to escape the bases-loaded, no-out jam unharmed and maintain the 3-3 score, Abrams (2-0) sent the packed crowd into a towel-waving frenzy.
“That’s definitely the loudest crowd I’ve been in front of,” Abrams said. “It wasn’t late in the game or anything, but obviously it’s a huge moment.”
Bunn’s ball landed in the glove of team captain Willie Abreu for the final out, shifting momentum in favor of the Hurricanes.
“He looked the same as he always does, so we weren’t worried at all,” said Abreu of Abrams’ entrance in a tight situation. “We had the same mentality: minimize damage. Then, one guy goes down, the next guy goes down and then you start thinking, ‘Wow. This is something special.’”
Abrams went on to toss a career-long 4.0 innings and needed just 54 pitches, striking out four and surrendering just a harmless single in the most impressive outing of his four seasons. He exited after a sixth and final inning to a standing ovation, having stifled VCU (40-25) for the entirety of his outing.
Morris called the crowd “great” and said the fans were “really into the game.”
Abrams, who played his freshman year in 2011 but was cut prior to the 2012 season, finished his master’s degree at Miami this spring for his final year of eligibility.
“I can’t believe that, having to come back for a fifth year from what happened my sophomore year, it ended up working out perfectly,” Abrams said. “It’s a dream come true, honestly.”
Miami (49-15) broke a 4-3 game open in the top half of the seventh, plating five runs to bump its lead to a more secure 9-3.
Junior David Thompson opened the inning’s scoring with an RBI single that scored George Iskenderian (double), while an infield RBI single from Brandon Lopez plated another run to extend the lead to 6-3. A bases loaded-walk to Abreu plated another run, while Miami added another pair on a sacrifice fly from Jacob Heyward and an RBI fielder’s choice from Ricky Eusebio.
Every Miami starter scored at least one run in the win, while seven of nine had at least one hit and one RBI.
“Our lineup, [hitters] one through nine, has been producing all year,” Thompson said. “It’s just a lot of fun knowing there’s no pressure on one guy. If you fail, the guy behind you is going to pick you up.”
Woodrey was unable to make it through 5.0 innings for the first start this season, lasting just 2.0+ before giving way to the bullpen with the score tied 3-3. A manufactured run in the top of the fourth – when Heyward reached on a fielder’s choice, stole second and third and then scored on a passed ball – proved to be the game-winning run that put Miami ahead 4-3.
“A lot of our players contributed, no question,” Morris said. “Our hitters, our pitchers, the whole team did a great job. I’m very, very proud of them and very excited to be a part of this team.”
By the time Willie Abreu’s solo home run landed somewhere beyond the rightfield fence to make it 10-3 in the top of the ninth inning, the party was about to get started.
“The fans are everything to us. We play for them as well as our teammates,” Abreu said. “The endless support and the endless love we get from all of our fans—that’s just something real special.”
Sophomore closer Bryan Garcia entered in the bottom of the ninth and retired Vima Machin on a fielder’s choice for the final out of the game, jumpstarting a celebratory dogpile on the pitchers’ mound.
“It’s a tough, tough thing to do, and there are so many good programs out there that have never been to Omaha or so many programs that didn’t make it to the NCAA tournament this year, period,” Morris said.
“It just makes you really understand and appreciate the opportunity to go back and play in that type of venue, for all the marbles, and see what it’s doing for your players. It’s just a great experience I guarantee everyone [on our team] will never forget.”