CORAL GABLES, Fla. – The power of pink.
Wearing pink uniforms and caps for the first time in program history in support of breast cancer awareness, the sixth-ranked Miami Hurricanes – and more specifically, junior captain Willie Abreu – slugged their way to a walk-off victory over fourth-ranked Louisville 8-4 Friday night.
Abreu cranked a ninth-inning, walk-off grand slam off Louisville closer Zack Burdi for his second home run of the game, sending head coach Jim Morris to a memorable 1,500th win as Division I head coach.
“It hasn’t really sunk in yet,” said Abreu, who unloaded on the first pitch he saw from Burdi (1-1). “It’s pretty amazing to be able to get that done. That’s the first time I’ve ever done that. It was amazing.”
Abreu finished the night with two home runs, seven RBI and one jubilant celebration at home plate with his teammates in front of 2,905.
“It was a team effort. We all stuck together and did a lot of things in that last inning that we had to do to score the winning run,” Abreu said. “The home run was obviously a plus, but that’s not what I was trying to do. I was just trying to get the run in.”
Willie Abreu's walk-off grand slam is the No. 1 play on the #SCtop10! pic.twitter.com/3YpoKUqM8l— Hurricanes Baseball (@CanesBaseball) March 19, 2016
Miami (15-3, 3-1 ACC) loaded the bases with no outs in the ninth on two singles and an error to set up the scoring opportunity. A sharply hit groundball from senior Brandon Lopez was handled for the first out by Burdi - who touched home plate himself –to retire junior Zack Collins.
But the Hurricanes were not deterred.
“When Willie came up, and I knew he was going to get it done,” Collins said.
Thanks largely to the career day from his junior captain, Morris became just the sixth head coach in the history of Division I baseball to reach the 1,500-win plateau.
“It’s a great win for us,” Morris said. “Louisville has an outstanding club, and we knew that coming in.”
Morris said he won’t soon forget win No. 1500, which puts him in elite company; only Augie Garrido, Mike Martin, Gene Stephenson, Mark Marquess and Larry Hays had previously reached the milestone.
“That’s a long time,” Morris said. “It’s a great way to get your 1500th - such an exciting game against an outstanding club like Louisville, with a walk-off…just a great situation. I’ll remember the 1500th, without question.”
.@Coach3Morris signing game-used balls from tonight's 1,500th win - congrats, Coach! #Legend pic.twitter.com/ZUv40Kk02A— Hurricanes Baseball (@CanesBaseball) March 19, 2016
Trailing 4-3 entering the bottom of the eighth inning, Miami tied the game late on a two-out RBI single from junior Carl Chester. With senior Brandon Lopez on second base and junior Randy Batista on first, Chester connected on a single off Burdi to tie the game 4-4.
The single extended Chester’s hitting streak to six consecutive games.
Miami fell behind early, as Louisville (15-3, 3-1 ACC) plated single runs in each of the first two innings on a solo home run from Corey Ray and an RBI single from Devin Hairston off senior lefthander Thomas Woodrey.
Facing one of the top righthanders in the country in senior Kyle Funkhouser, the Hurricanes held their own. Miami forced Funkhouser into 101 pitches over just five innings before he was relieved by freshman Sam Bordner to start the sixth.
“They’ve got outstanding pitching – some of the top prospects in the country on the mound,” Morris said. “And their position players are very good too. It was a great effort by our team.”
Abreu cracked a three-run home run over the fence in rightfield off Funkhouser to give Miami a 3-2 lead in the second inning. The first homer of the night for Abreu left little doubt, much like his ninth-inning rendition.
Willie Abreu hits a walk-off grand slam against No. 4 Louisville to get @Coach3morris his 1,500th win! #SCtop10 pic.twitter.com/PmdJ6bOuCo— Hurricanes Baseball (@CanesBaseball) March 19, 2016
Woodrey settled down after a tough first two innings, where he surrendered five of the eight hits allowed on the night. The Lighthouse Point, Fla., native scattered four earned and one walk with three strikeouts.
Freshman Andrew Cabezas entered in the sixth after Louisville regained the lead on a sacrifice fly from Hairston off Woodrey. Facing the dangerous Ray as his first batter of the night, Cabezas induced an inning-ending groundout to strand a bases-loaded situation.
The freshman continued his recent impressive stretch with two scoreless innings.
The Hurricanes threatened to tie the game in the eighth when they loaded the bases on three straight singles from Christopher Barr, Zack Collins and Jacob Heyward. But an inning-ending double play kept Louisville ahead 4-3.
Junior closer Bryan Garcia needed just 11 pitches to work through a 1-2-3 ninth inning, setting the stage for Abreu’s dramatics.