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In another impressive pitchers' duel at NewBridge Bank Park, the No. 21 Miami Hurricanes won game two of their Atlantic Coast Conference Tournament over sixth-ranked North Carolina by a final score of 5-3.
Junior lefthander Steven Ewing erased away the struggles of his final outing of the regular season with an eight-inning gem on Thursday afternoon. The Orlando, Fla. native scattered eight hits through the outing, pitching his way out of big jams to keep the Hurricanes in the game. Ewing (6-2), who helped guide his team to their fifth straight win over the Tar Heels, threw 109 pitches with 64 strikes.
Sophomore centerfielder Dale Carey delivered a dramatic game-winning hit in the seventh inning, belting a Kent Emanuel offering over the leftfield fence for his second homerun of the year. Carey, who fell to the ground earlier in the at-bat after fouling a ball of his left foot, came back to grind out a tough sequence against the first-team All-ACC lefthander. And with one swing of the bat, Carey helped the Hurricanes (35-20) regain a two-run lead late in the game, with Miami sporting a 5-3 advantage heading into the eighth inning.
"After fouling that ball off my foot, I just knew I had to get back in the box and get a good at bat going. It felt great afterwards because I didn't have to run out anything," Carey said with a smile.
Ewing return to the mound for the next half-inning, matching his career-high by finishing his eighth frame on the day. The veteran southpaw allowed two baserunners in his final stint, but, as he was able to do throughout his start, Ewing exited the inning unscathed.
"Steven's thrown outstanding for us all year. I really wanted to leave him in the game, but I felt like in the eighth inning he was getting tired, so it was time to get him out," Head Coach Jim Morris said. "I know he's a guy that will go after you, and he's a winner. He just pitched extremely well today against an outstanding team."
Sophomore closer AJ Salcines provided further dramatics in the ninth inning, loading the bases with two outs with one of the premier hitters in the conference heading to the plate. But Salcines caught Tar Heels' third baseman Colin Moran looking on an inside fastball, sealing the sixth-seeded Hurricanes' upset over second-seeded North Carolina.
"AJ has gotten some important outs for us over the year, and I think it was important for him today to have enough guts to pitch and get it done right there at the end," Coach Morris said. "It takes a special person to pitch in the ninth inning with the game on the line, and that happens a lot right now."
As they were able to do in the regular season match-up against Emanuel, the Hurricanes jumped out to an early advantage. With junior shortstop Stephen Perez on third base after belting a double into the gap earlier in the inning, junior outfielder Chantz Mack connected on an RBI groundout that gave Miami a 1-0 lead in the bottom of the first.
The Hurricanes, who tagged Emanuel for ten hits and four runs in their series opener with the Tar Heels back in early April, struck for five runs off the lefthander on Thursday. Back-to-back doubles from Chantz Mack and Brad Fieger to open the fourth inning gave Miami a 2-1 advantage, while an error charged to Moran in the fifth plated Stephen Perez from second to make it 3-1.
A two-run homerun from pinch-hitter Grayson Atwood in the top of the seventh tied the game up for the Tar Heels, setting the Hurricanes up for the decisive bottom half of the inning. Carey's two-run shot, his first homerun since opening weekend against Rutgers, gave Miami a lead it would not relinquish.
Thursday's game also marked the return of senior captain Peter O'Brien, who started the game at first base and hit sixth in the line-up. O'Brien finished the day 1-for-4 with a single.
"It's great to get a win. There are so many close games (in this tournament), and it's just amazing. It seems like every game comes down to the eighth or ninth inning with the bats in low scoring games," Coach Morris said.
With some help, the Hurricanes can still advance to Sunday's ACC Tournament Championship Game. Wins by Wake Forest (Thursday) and North Carolina (Saturday), each over North Carolina State, coupled with a Hurricanes' win over the Demon Deacons on Friday night, would seal Miami's spot in Sunday's final game.
The Hurricanes return to NewBridge Bank Park tomorrow for their final game of round-robin play with a 7 p.m. first pitch set for their duel with Wake Forest.