CORAL GABLES, Fla. — The Hurricanes capped off their series with No. 3 North Carolina in impressive fashion on Sunday, shutting out the visiting Tar Heels for the second time this weekend in a 4-0 win at Alex Rodriguez Park.
With their victory in the finale, the Hurricanes complete their fourth series sweep of the year and their most impressive to date, all at a time when they needed it most. After dropping two of three against Clemson in addition to their most recent midweek contest against No. 14 UCF, Miami (Fla.) outpitched and outhit the third-ranked team in the nation in convincing fashion.
“I knew we have a great team,” starter Steven Ewing said. “It was a matter of putting stuff together and we put it together at the right time. We did everything you need to do to win.”
The North Carolina staff, which entered the series with the lowest ERA in the Atlantic Coast Conference, was tagged for 16 combined runs over the weekend. For the first time since April 2001 against Florida State, the Hurricanes completed a three-game sweep of a team ranked as high as No. 3.
“We’ve been working incredibly hard,” co-captain Peter O’Brien said. “This weekend we played with a lot of intensity and went out there and fought hard. We did all the little things right and everything came together for us.”
With a 1 p.m. start time after a 14-inning marathon Saturday night, each team’s lineup looked expectedly sluggish in the early going. Though the Hurricanes (24-8, 11-4 ACC) opened the game’s scoring in the second inning, they managed to do so with zero basehits and only through some uncharacteristic control issues from North Carolina starter Benton Moss.
After the freshman righthander issued back-to-back walks to Chantz Mack and Esteban Tresgallo to begin the frame, shortstop Stephen Perez squared up for an attempted sacrifice bunt. But Tar Heels catcher Jacob Stallings, who fielded the ball in the shallow infield, overthrew first base on the play, giving the Hurricanes a bases-loaded situation with no outs. Freshman infielder Jarred Mederos then drew the third walk of the inning, plating Mack from third and giving Miami an early 1-0 lead.
The Hurricanes were right back at it in the third inning, tallying their second run of the game on more Carolina miscues. After lead-off hitter Tyler Palmer laced a single to left-center and advanced on a balk call, Carey advanced Palmer to third. O’Brien then drove a shallow fly ball into right field that squirted out of rightfielder Michael Russell’s glove, plating Palmer for the second run of the game.
The way junior lefthander Steven Ewing was throwing, a 2-0 run looked anything but secure. Ewing issued a career-high seven walks on Sunday afternoon, four more than his previous career high of three set last weekend against Clemson.
“It was frustrating to watch,” head coach Jim Morris said. “The game was close and every inning we’re walking a guy or two, giving them a chance to win, and they couldn’t get a hit.”
Despite losing control of his fastball from the fourth inning onward, Ewing (4-0) delivered a deceptive quality start. The Orlando native struck out a season-high nine batter in six innings of work, and seemed to get out of every jam he created unscathed. After the game, he credited his offspeed stuff as the difference-maker.
“That’s the most walks I’ve ever had in my entire life, it wasn’t fun,” Ewing said. “I did what I could to mix together at-bats and find a way to get people out. I was fortunate that both my breaking balls were really good today.”
“That’s also a credit to a good pitcher, that he can get out of jams,” Morris said. “His breaking ball was a lot better than any of his fastballs.”
The Hurricanes tacked on two more runs in the seventh as insurance, as Morris replaced Ewing with sophomore sidewinder Adam Sargent. The righthander allowed a single to Russell before inducing a flyout from Tommy Coyle. During the next at-bat, freshman catcher Garrett Kennedy gunned down Russell trying to steal, ending any type of late-inning threat. In the end, Sargent, Chris Diaz and Eric Nedeljkovic combined for three scoreless innings, preserving the shutout and Ewing’s fourth win of the season.
It was the first time the Hurricanes had shutout an Atlantic Coast Conference opponent twice in the same series.
“I’m a believer in the bullpen,” Morris said. “Of course, E.J threw great last night. Ned, Sargent, Diaz, Salcines, they all threw good. That’s important. When you throw two shutouts and you pitch well, you feel like you have a chance to win.”