ANALYSIS: Closer look at baseball team coming off Pitt series
It wasn’t the No. 3 Miami Hurricanes baseball team's best performance of the season. On Saturday night, with six hits through nine innings, Miami seemed demoralized after Pittsburgh's Brock Franks’ solo home run in the ninth tied the score. Then, in the 10th with no outs, Pitt's Bryce Hulett singled to right field, and the Panthers had runners on the corners. Jacob Burke made one of the plays of the season, firing a rope to Yohandy Morales at third base to tag out Ron Washington Jr., the Panthers didn't score and in the bottom half C.J. Kayfus poked an RBI single to left field to win it for Miami. The Canes found a way to win.
The No. 5 Hurricanes won their sixth ACC series of the season this weekend, winning two out of three against the resurging Panthers. The Canes walked off in the narrow 2-1 final on Friday, then destroyed Pittsburgh 17-2 Saturday. Sunday, the Panthers silenced the crowd at Alex Rodriguez Park at Mark Light Field, leading by as much as eight before winning 9-4.
Friday’s game could have been anybody’s to win, with Pittsburgh leaving 12 on base and Miami squandering their lead with just three outs to go. The remaining two were respective blowouts, with Miami out of sight by the fourth inning on Saturday and Pittsburgh (22-16, 10-10 ACC) cruising after six on Sunday.
“[Sunday was] disappointing, on that note, you’re never happy when you lose,” head coach Gino DiMare said. “We go 3-1 on the week, we win the series, we just have to stay positive, move forward.”
Miami (31-9, 16-5 ACC) lost its first home game in over a month on Sunday after 14 consecutive wins at The Light. The Hurricanes still hold first place in the Coastal Division, but the gap narrowed after No. 8 Virginia Tech swept Boston College in Massachusetts.
In a series that seemed a lot more lopsided than it really was, here are five takeaways from UM’s series victory over Pittsburgh.
Carson and Karson back to form
The biggest black eye from the series against Virginia and Virginia Tech was the struggles from Miami’s weekend starters. Carson Palmquist gave up six runs across just 3.1 innings in Blacksburg, while Karson Ligon gave up 12 earned runs in just eight innings against the Cavaliers and Hokies.
This weekend was the confidence-builder that both desperately needed. Miami’s last three ACC opponents (Georgia Tech, Florida State, Notre Dame) all have been efficient at the plate, so Palmquist and Ligon need to be at their best.
Palmquist struck out six across eight outs that he got at Virginia Tech, and showed that same strikeout prowess. Palmquist fanned 12 Panthers on Friday night, throwing 5.1 IP of shutout baseball.
Palmquist’s command was outstanding against Pittsburgh. The southpaw struck out the side in the second inning, staying in front of Pittsburgh all night long. The third-year Sophomore is up to 81 strikeouts on the season, second in the ACC only to Florida State’s Parker Messick.
“Carson threw what you normally what he throws like,” DiMare said. “You’d like to see him go a little bit deeper in the game, which we’ve talked about. It’s hard because he’s a guy who gets a lot of 3-2 counts and a lot of strikeouts.
After surrendering a solo home run to Washington Jr. in the first inning, Ligon was lights out. It helped that Miami gave him plenty of run support, scoring in seven of the eight innings that Ligon pitched. In Ligon’s ninth start of his freshman season, he got better with time. The Sarasota, Fla. native set down eight consecutive batters in the fourth and fifth innings, including getting a 4-6-3 double play to wrap up the fourth.
Ligon collected four strikeouts through his first two times through the order, and kept Pittsburgh guessing throughout. The right-hander struck out four in the final two innings, ending his outing with a season-high eight innings thrown and a joint-season-high eight strikeouts.
“Ligon was outstanding, he gave us eight innings and saved our bullpen,” DiMare said.
Palmquist and Ligon are now a combined 11-4 this season, both providing major reasons for why the Hurricanes were able to take the series. The dynamic duo cruised stress-free this weekend, reminding the ACC why Miami are a team to be feared.
Zach Levenson’s breakout series
Miami has been a team that has relied on different players every weekend to deliver. In the series against UNC, it was Yohandy Morales. Against Duke, Dominic Pitelli’s 10 RBI drove the Canes to victory.
This weekend, second-year freshman Zach Levenson shone brightest. The JUCO transfer from Seminole State College led the Hurricanes in hits, extra base hits, and RBI. Levenson stood out on Saturday, reaching on all four plate appearances with three hits and three RBI. He launched his fourth home run of the season on Sunday, collecting another three RBI.
He finished the weekend batting .545 with six RBI, and 20 total bases, leading the team in each of those stats.
“Zach’s a guy that we brought in to hit with power,” DiMare said. “I want to see him hitting balls in the air, which he did with the home run. The ballpark’s perfect for Zach because the ball normally carries to left field here… that’s something hopefully we can get more out of him.”
All four of Levenson’s home runs this season have gone to left field, with three coming in Coral Gables. He also doubled and tripled to left field this weekend, providing some pop towards the bottom of the lineup.
Across 15 games in April, Levenson is now batting .325 with two home runs and nine RBI, after batting in the .230s for most of the season. Miami seems to have finally found the replacement for Lorenzo Carrier after his injury, and Levenson might just run away with the starting spot.
Home runs abundant this weekend
It wasn’t just Levenson that went yard for either team in this series. Each team showed off some power this weekend, with the Hurricanes and Panthers each hitting four home runs.
Pittsburgh had consistently been one of the better power-hitting teams in the ACC this season. The Panthers entered Coral Gables with 55 home runs across 35 games, and had one home run in each game at crucial times.
Franks tied the game in the ninth inning on Friday night, ruining Andrew Walters’ perfect record in save situations. Washington homered at the start of Saturday night, giving Pittsburgh an early lead. Sunday was the Tatum Levins show, blasting two home runs in each of the first two innings to put Pitt ahead 6-0 after two.
Levins did an excellent job to shake off an 0-for-7 start to the weekend. The La Salle transfer has been one of the most underrated players in the ACC this season, and would most likely be First Team All-ACC if not for Georgia Tech’s Kevin Parada.
Miami’s bats were quiet on Friday night, but exploded into life on Saturday. Jacob Burke’s two-run shot send the Mark Light crowd into a frenzy early, towering a 415-foot shot to left-center field. Renzo Gonzalez joined in the fun in the eighth inning, going opposite field for his first NCAA home run.
Sunday saw Morales and Levenson go yard, albeit neither really helped to the overall game. Morales took over the Hurricanes’ home run lead with eight after his solo shot in the fourth inning.
“I was just trying to do whatever I could to get on base,” Morales said. “I got a first-pitch fastball up and in and I got to get my hands extended to it.”
Miami has slowly started to use the long ball more throughout the season after a hot start against Towson and FAU.
Ronaldo Gallo’s big Sunday outing
It wasn’t just Ligon who set a season-high in innings this season. After RHP Alejandro Rosario barely got through two innings on Sunday, RHP Ronaldo Gallo delivered one of his finest outings at the NCAA level.
The FGCU transfer tossed a UM-high three shutout innings against the Panthers. Gallo added four strikeouts, tying his season-high set back in February against Harvard.
Gallo entered with a runner on first base and no outs in the top of the third inning, and used his defense to quickly get out of it. After a foul out from Pitt’s Tommy Tavarez, the tall righty got a line drive by Josh Overbeek hit straight to first baseman Kayfus, who stepped on the bag for an unassisted double play.
He used just three pitches to record three outs in the third inning. Gallo grooved from there, striking out Jordan Anderson and Dom Popa for a 1-2-3 fourth inning before fanning Jeffrey Wehler with a fastball and getting Ron Washington to swing and miss in the fifth.
“I had a chance to pick up one of our teammates, and that’s what was going on through my head,” Gallo said. “I just wanted to pick him up and be a good teammate, hold the lead right there, and hopefully get that Mark Light magic that we always have and come back like we have in the past.”
There would be no Mark Light magic for Gallo, but the righty was excellent for DiMare’s Hurricanes on Sunday, easily the standout part of that 9-4 loss. Getting long innings of relief is a big need for UM with Jordan Dubberly struggling in recent weeks.
The race for first place
The rest of the weekend across the ACC was a wild one, including walk-off wins by Georgia Tech and Virginia. With three ACC weekends to go, there is a lot to watch in the conference in the final month of the year.
The Atlantic Division is going to be a crazy finish until the end. Five teams stand within four games of first in the Atlantic, including two ranked teams.
No. 18 Notre Dame swept Wake Forest in South Bend this weekend to emerge as the frontrunners. The Fighting Irish are now up to 26-8 on the season with a narrow one-game lead atop the Atlantic over No. 16 Louisville, who took two of three against NC State in Kentucky.
Miami will host Notre Dame to close the regular season, which could be the series to determine first place at the ACC Tournament. For now, the Hurricanes hold first place in the Coastal, but next weekend will mean a lot for the division. Miami heads to Georgia Tech next weekend with a slim lead over Virginia Tech. The Yellow Jackets surprisingly dropped two out of three games to Duke in what was a wild series in Atlanta.
The biggest series in the ACC next weekend will be between No. 8 Virginia Tech and No. 11 Virginia, who swept North Carolina this weekend. If one of those teams gets swept, it could turn the Coastal into a two-horse race.