Twenty-five games into this season, the University of Miami baseball team could barely stay above .500. At the time, it seemed as though its NCAA record of consecutive postseason appearances could be in jeopardy.
Instead, the Hurricanes (40-15, 24-6) won 27 of their next 30 games and jumped to No. 4 in the nation.
After claiming the program’s second Atlantic Coast Conference regular-season championship this past weekend, the journey to Omaha continues this week with the ACC Tournament in Greensboro, N.C. Its winner earns an automatic berth in the NCAA Tournament.
As the top seed, Miami heads up Pool A with fourth-seeded Duke (32-23, 16-14), fifth-seeded Clemson (34-22, 15-14), eighth-seeded Wake Forest (30-25, 15-15) and ninth-seeded Georgia Tech (32-24, 14-16). Clemson pitcher Daniel Gossett boasts the second-lowest ERA (1.74) in the league, while Duke’s Andrew Istler ranks third with eight wins.
Before going on their current run, the Hurricanes dropped two of three against the Yellow Jackets. When things later got on track, they swept the Hokies, Tigers and Blue Devils.
The only other time Miami captured the conference title was in 2008. That year, the Hurricanes made their 23rd trip to the College World Series, but they have not been back since.
In 2014, there isn’t a hotter team. Miami finished with seven straight ACC series victories, closing 19-2. The Hurricanes cemented their first 40-win season since 2008. Only three teams had ever won 24 ACC games (Clemson in 2006 and Florida State in ’08 and ’12).
Here’s a look at UM baseball as the ACC Tournament approaches:
Thursday — No. 5 Clemson vs. Miami at 3 p.m.
Saturday — No. 4 Duke vs. No. 1 Miami at 11 a.m.
Sunday — ACC title game, 1 p.m.
PLAYERS TO WATCH
DH Zack Collins, Fr.: Collins leads the team with eight homers and 46 RBI in 53 games (50 starts). He began the season just 1 for 27 (.037) out of American Heritage School. He ranks second in the ACC in slugging percentage (.520), fourth in RBI (46) and tied for second in homers (8).
LF Tyler Palmer, Sr.: Palmer has started all 54 games and leads the team with a .305 average. In his previous two seasons, he posted a .259 clip with 12 doubles, four homers, 26 RBI and 21 steals. This year, he has 14 doubles, four triples, two dingers, 31 RBI and 18 stolen bases.
LHP Chris Diaz, Jr.: Diaz has gone 9-0 (leads ACC) with a UM starter-low 2.32 ERA in 14 outings. He has allowed just 78 hits and one home run over 89 1/3 innings with 33 walks and 78 strikeouts. Though his ERA (1.64) was lower last season, his record was just 7-5. He went 2-1 with a 4.18 ERA as a freshman.
RHP Bryan Garcia, Fr.: Garcia took over closing duties during the Florida series and has recorded 15 saves — good for second in the conference — with a 5-3 record and 1.61 ERA in 28 appearances. The All-ACC second teamer has more strikeouts (48) than innings pitched (44 2/3). Garcia ranks first with 27 games finished.
Chris Diaz — Co-Pitcher of the Year, First Team All-ACC
Zack Collins — Freshman of the Year, Third Team All-ACC
Dale Carey — Second Team All-ACC
Bryan Radziewski — Second Team All-ACC
Bryan Garcia — Second Team All-ACC
Andrew Suarez — Third Team All-ACC
Willie Abreu — Third Team All-ACC
3: ACC teams ranked in the top 10 for RPI (Virginia, FSU, Miami)
4: Seniors who are everyday starters for the Hurricanes
41: Straight NCAA Tournament appearances, a record that should be extended next week
96: Strikeouts for lefty Bryan Radziewski, third in the ACC
”Hopefully this is the start to some big things.” — Coach Jim Morris, to reporters, following his team’s ACC-clinching win over North Carolina
”Last night I was kind of speechless — people were asking me, ‘How did it feel to hit a walk-off on my Senior Night?’ It’s something that you can’t even picture. It’s a dream come true. Everything we’ve accomplished this year, it’s made my senior year worthwhile.” — Tyler Palmer, to reporters, about his magical senior season
”We kept going and never looked back. It’s a testament to all the hard work we put in, and all the freshmen who needed to get their feet wet. Look where we’re at now.” — Lefty Bryan Radziewski, to reporters, explaining the team’s late-season run