CORAL GABLES, Fla. – Freshman lefthander Danny Garcia struck out eight batters in his career-first start, helping lead No. 16 Miami to a midweek sweep of Villanova with a 7-2 win Wednesday night at Alex Rodriguez Park at Mark Light Field.
Garcia, who managed to fan eight Villanova (2-9) batters in a stint lasting just 4.0+ innings, allowed only two hits across the outing. The freshman said following up the second perfect game in program history, pitched Tuesday night by senior righthander Javi Salas in a 17-0 victory, was a unique way to officially open his collegiate career as a starting pitcher.
"It was pretty interesting, but I just thought of it as another game," Garcia said. "I wasn’t thinking perfect game. I was on a pitch count, and knew I wasn’t going to go that long, but I did my job."
One of those hits was a second-inning solo home run from Todd Czinege lifted over the fence in left-center, which proved to be the difference until the game’s fifth inning. But Miami rebounded by scoring the game’s final six runs, sweeping the visitors and improving its all-time record against Villanova to a flawless 6-0.
"He’s got a good arm, he’s got a lot of ability," head coach Jim Morris said of his talented young lefthander. "He has to locate better. He pitched up a lot tonight and got away with it – he needs to work down more, because he has a good fastball, a good breaking ball, and he has good movement on his pitches…he did a good job tonight."
Garcia threw 66 pitches in his starting debut, 43 of which went for strikes.
"Commanding my fastball," Garcia responded when asked of the key to his success against Villanova. "Trying to keep it low, and working on my breaking pitches."
Boosted by timely hitting from the team’s seniors, the Hurricanes tied the game on the career-first triple for Tyler Palmer and went ahead on an RBI single from Brad Fieger.
"It’s tough to [come back] as an offense when you scored 17 the night before – to come out swinging out of the gates," Palmer said. "It’s tough to do. I thought we did well in the second half of the game. We struggled early on."
Down 2-0 after an RBI groundout from Brian Trabulsi in the top half of the fifth, Miami struck for three runs in the bottom of the frame, chasing Villanova starter Jeff Courter (0-1). Garrett Kennedy reached after getting hit by a Courter offering, while a single from shortstop Brandon Lopez ripped up the middle put two on with one out.
Senior Dale Carey popped up to first base to put the threat in jeopardy, but a solid piece of hitting from Palmer – who ripped an 0-2 pitch into opposite field past the outstretched glove of a diving Connor Jones in center – scored both Kennedy and Lopez.
"He got ahead of me and he left a changeup away," Palmer said of the hit. "I put a good piece on the ball and drove it to right-center."
Fieger followed with a clutch hit of his own, driving a pitch from reliever Chris Haggarty right back up the middle, as Miami took its first lead of the night in front of a crowd of 2,383.
Fieger finished the night 3-for-4 with two RBI.
"Fieger had a big night with three hits and the game-winning hit," Morris said. "I think we’re settling in a little now with Fieger back at third and [David] Thompson at first."
Palmer came up with a defensive web gem in the seventh, robbing Trabulsi of extra bases and keeping Villanova off the scoreboard in a dicey situation.
With runners on the corners, Trabulsi drove a two-out pitch from reliever AJ Salcines deep into the left-center gap. Palmer sprinted to the warning track, hauling in the ball on the run to end the inning.
"Our outfield coach Gino DiMare does a great job positioning us, and we played the righty straight up," Palmer said. "We played him a little deeper and I got a good break on the ball."
It was Fieger who helped Miami add insurance in the seventh, when a double belted over the head of Jones in center plated the speedy Carey from second. Abreu added an RBI single that scored Fieger, while Carey crushed a solo home run over the scoreboard in left field for Miami’s seventh and final run. The home run was the 10th of the season for Miami’s offense.
Freshman Bryan Garcia pitched a clean ninth inning to close out the win for the Hurricanes, who open up conference play on Friday.
"It’s a big win. It was good to see Danny get his first start," Morris said. "I wasn’t very pleased with the way we played the first half of the game – I thought we were pretty flat coming out…thank goodness we turned it up a notch and played a lot better in the second half."
Miami returns to Alex Rodriguez Park at Mark Light Field for its series opener against Boston College Friday, March 7. First pitch is set for 7 p.m.