CORAL GABLES, Fla. – Sophomore Carl Chester broke a 4-4 deadlock with a three-run home run in the bottom of the eighth, as fourth-ranked Miami captured a thrilling 7-6 win over Pittsburgh the series opener Friday night.
With two runners on and two outs, Chester crushed a 1-2 pitch from Pittsburgh reliever Josh Mitchell into the netting in left to put Miami ahead late at Mark Light Field.
“A home run is a home run, but especially in a crucial situation to put the team on top, it’s always great,” he said.
Junior closer Bryan Garcia entered in the ninth and allowed two earned runs, but induced a lineout to right to seal his 12th save of the season and the fourth straight victory for Miami.
Chester, who was 0-for-4 entering the at bat, delivered when it counted most with only his second homer of the season.
“Definitely not home run, because I’m not a home run hitter,” Chester said when asked about his approach at the plate in the final at bat. “Just put a good swing on the ball and put the ball in play.”
Making the first start of his collegiate career, freshman Andrew Cabezas tossed 4.2 solid innings.
The righthander tied a career high with five strikeouts and walked three batters in a 68-pitch outing.
“I finally got one in the books. I got rid of all the butterflies and everything, and now we just have to get ready for tomorrow,” Cabezas said.
He departed in the fifth with the score tied 3-3, tipping his cap to 2,715 appreciative fans in attendance.
“I keep a straight face throughout the whole game, but I had a lot of butterflies before the game,” Cabezas. “Once I got on the rubber, it just felt like a regular game to me.”
Cabezas was charged with four runs, the last of which came on a bloop single off reliever Devin Meyer that landed in shallow center to give Pitt a 4-3 lead.
Meyer tossed 2.1 impressive innings, while freshman Frankie Bartow (3-0) followed with a scoreless eighth.
Pittsburgh (25-21, 10-13 ACC) managed just two hits against the Miami bullpen before tagging Garcia for four hits and two runs in the ninth.
Facing one of the conference’s top pitchers in Pittsburgh righthander T.J. Zeuch, the Miami offense looked up to the task in the early innings, including a three-run second that gave the hosts a 3-1 lead.
A double from senior Brandon Lopez and a single from Johnny Ruiz set up the early scoring opportunity. Junior Willie Abreu delivered, doubling down the leftfield line to plate both runners.
Abreu then scored on a wild pitch from Zeuch that would increase Miami’s lead to 3-1.
The double extended Lopez’ career-long hitting streak to 11 games, while Ruiz’ single made it nine straight for the junior.
The Panthers, who received a solo home run in the second from Alex Kowalczyk to open the scoring, cut Miami’s lead to 3-2 on an RBI single from Charles Leblanc in the third. Another RBI single from Leblanc tied it in the fifth before Nick Yarnall put the visitors ahead with the bloop hit to center off Meyer.
Miami (38-9, 17-6 ACC) chased Zeuch in the sixth. Back-to-back walks from juniors Randy Batista and Jacob Heyward were followed by a chopped double over the head of third baseman Matt Johnson by Edgar Michelangeli to tie the game.
Zeuch allowed four runs on seven hits in 5.2 innings. He struck out six batters and walked three over his 110-pitch outing before giving way to Mitchell (0-3).
“We beat Zeuch, who is an outstanding prospect with great stuff,” head coach Jim Morris said. “I thought our guys battled hard. A lot of guys had some good nights.”
The two teams return to Alex Rodriguez Park at Mark Light Field Saturday for the second game of the weekend series. First pitch for the contest, slated for broadcast on ESPN3 and 560 WQAM, is set for 7 p.m.