Behind a career day from catcher Garrett Kennedy and another strong start from southpaw Chris Diaz, the second-seeded Miami Hurricanes captured their NCAA Championship opener over third-seeded Oklahoma State by a final score of 7-0.
Playing without the direction of head coach Jim Morris, who continues to recover from pneumonia, the Hurricanes recorded their second consecutive shutout in just the eighth-ever meeting between two of college baseball's most historic programs.
"It was just a complete game, we played good defense, we pitched, we swung the bat and got some timely hits," said assistant coach Gino DiMare, who served as head coach in place of Morris. "I'm very, very proud of the guys and the way they played."
Kennedy, who paced Miami at the recent 2013 ACC Championship, contributed three hits to Miami's impressive 12-hit offensive barrage. The Davie, Fla., native set new career highs in hits and RBI's (three), including his third homerun of the season, to guide the Hurricanes (37-23) to a place in the winner's bracket of the Louisville Regional.
Diaz (7-5) delivered another dominant outing, scattering just three hits through his seven innings on the hill. Though he walked five Cowboys batters, the Florida City, Fla., native outdueled Cowboys' ace Jason Hursh (6-5) by striking out a career-high 10 batters on the afternoon.
"I thought Diaz was outstanding, as he always is," DiMare said. "He got 10 groundball outs and 10 strikeouts. The first ball they hit in the air was in the seventh inning with one out, it was the only flyball out he got. Chris did what he always does, he gets people out."
The talented lefthander, who ended the regular season with the second-lowest ERA of any pitcher in the conference, was the benefactor of hefty run support in the early going. The Hurricanes struck early against Hursh, as Kennedy's third homerun of the season made its way just inside the foul pole in left to give Miami a 1-0 lead in the second.
Despite pouring rain at Jim Patterson Stadium, the opposite-field blast was aided by turbulent winds blowing towards the outfield fence. The homerun was Kennedy's first since a May 12 match-up at Wake Forest.
"I put a good swing on a good pitch," Kennedy said. "Their pitcher is pretty good with a lot of velocity. He left the ball up in the zone, and I got a good swing on it."
Miami tacked on to its lead in the fourth, and it was Kennedy who once again provided the spark.
With senior Chantz Mack (walk) on third and junior Brad Fieger (single) on first, the sophomore roped a Hursh offering in front of Cowboys' centerfielder Saulyer Saxon to make it 2-0 in favor of Miami. The Hurricanes threatened to add to their advantage when a walk from freshman Brandon Lopez loaded the bases, but Hursh struck out junior Dale Carey to maintain his team's deficit at two runs.
"We watched [Hursh] warm up in his pregame and he was throwing it pretty hard," Mack said. "We were checking the scoreboard which had the [speed] up, and we knew he was bringing some velocity. All the guys knew we had to get our foot down and be ready to hit the fastball, because it seemed to be his best pitch. I enjoyed the moment."
The Hurricanes blew the game open with four runs in the fifth, chasing Hursh out of the game after just 4.2 innings. Junior Tyler Palmer opened the action with a double looped to left, and scored on an attempted sacrifice bunt from Hernandez that was overthrown by Hursh past the glove of a leaping Tyler Krietemeier at first.
Hernandez, taking second on the error, would score on an RBI single from freshman David Thompson, who reached base for the 26th consecutive game on the basehit.
With reliever Jon Perrin in to pitch, Miami strung together three consecutive singles from Kennedy, Christopher Barr and Brandon Lopez to take a 6-0 lead. The stint marked the second-shortest of the season for the 2013 All-Big 12 Second Team selection Hursh.
"Offensively we did a little bit of everything," DiMare said. "We thought we had to be aggressive with the pitcher that was throwing, he threw a lot of strikes and worked down in the zone. Our gameplan was to swing the bat, put the ball in the play, and put some runners in motion, which we did."
An RBI single from Mack, who recorded his team-leading 18th multi-hit game of the season in the win, capped Miami’s scoring at 7-0. With Palmer on second, Mack drove the second pitch of the afternoon from Cowboys’ reliever Alex Hackerott up the middle.
After seven dominant innings from Diaz, junior Javi Salas and freshman Jace Herrera combined to blank Oklahoma State over the game’s final two frames. The shutout marked Miami’s first in the postseason since May 31, 2009 against Jacksonville.
“I knew today was a big game for our team,” Diaz said. “I
knew I had to go out there and try my best and give it all I had. Today was a
must-win for us.”
The Hurricanes will return to Jim Patterson Stadium Saturday for their second game of the Louisville Regional. Miami will play the winner of the Friday matchup between first-seeded and host Louisville and fourth-seeded Bowling Green.