CORAL GABLES – The fourth-ranked Hurricanes wrapped up their home schedule on a high note Tuesday, earning an 8-3 win over visiting Florida Gulf Coast University in the Mark Light Field regular season finale.
Led by a strong performance on the hill from sophomore righthander Jesse Lepore, Miami extended its winning streak to seven straight games and finished off a season sweep of the Eagles in front of 2,383.
The home win was No. 32 of the regular season, the most by a Hurricanes team since earning 37 wins during the 2004 regular season.
“I think I speak for us all – our fans are just great,” Lepore said. “It’s a great environment to play in. We just go out there day by day and keep the same mentality. It’s really comfortable playing here.”
Miami improved to 12-1 in midweek games and 20-3 in non-conference home games.
“It’s always great playing here,” outfielder Willie Abreu said. “We love doing it. The fans are always here, 100 percent of the time. We have to give them what they want to see.”
One of those fans in attendance was making her first appearance at a game since suffering a stroke nearly one year ago to the day: Abreu’s mother Rosie.
“We were looking forward to a good time to do it, just [so] she felt comfortable,” Abreu said. “It was great to have her out here watch us play. She loved coming all the time. It was a blessing to see her out here, finally…she’s doing great.”
The Hurricanes (41-9) struck early and often in support of Lepore, scoring two runs in the first, three in the second and three more in the fourth.
“It’s always good when you can get ahead, and get a little cushion,” head coach Jim Morris said. “We played good defense again tonight, and we put pressure on them offensively.”
The way Lepore was pitching, he didn’t need all the fireworks.
The tall righthander struck out a career-high eight batters over six innings. He surrendered six hits and three earned runs before departing after 106 pitches – the most of any outing in his career.
Lepore, who improved his season record to a perfect 8-0 with the performance, walked two batters but was in command from the outset.
“Late in the game, I thought [Lepore] was getting a little bit tired, but that’s when he pitched the best,” Morris said. “That’s when he threw his breaking ball the best, his fastball was down – that’s when he got a lot of the strikeouts.”
A two-RBI single from senior Brandon Lopez opened the scoring in the first, and Miami chased FGCU starter Cory Weiand less than an inning later.
Three Hurricanes connected on consecutive singles in the second off Weiand (0-1), who was making his first career start. Redshirt junior Edgar Michelangeli put Miami ahead 3-0 with an RBI single to left before Weiand was removed in favor of Eagles reliever Garrett Anderson.
A bases-loaded walk to Zack Collins and an RBI groundout from Lopez made it 5-0 before the inning was over.
The Eagles (24-27) struck for a pair of runs on a two-RBI single from Tyler Selesky off Lepore, but the righthander stranded two runners when he struck out Jay Hayes to end the inning.
A three-run fourth pushed Miami’s lead to 8-2 in support of Lepore. Back-to-back singles from Michelangeli and sophomore Carl Chester set up the scoring opportunity, and a botched double play by the Eagles infield scored the first run of the frame.
Collins connected on an RBI groundout to second and junior Johnny Ruiz lifted a sacrifice fly to left for the other two runs.
Lepore struck out four of the final five batters he faced, including back-to-back strikeouts of Selesky and Hayes in the fifth to strand two Eagles runners.
“It was shaky at times, but whenever I gave those runs up, it created a fire in me,” Lepore said. “I just went out there, kind of put it past me and kept on pitching.”
Redshirt freshman Keven Pimentel did not allow a run over the final three innings, earning the second save of his career in the process. He struck out one batter and allowed just three hits.
Miami wraps up its regular season with a rivalry series at No. 14 Florida State beginning Thursday, May 19. First pitch for the series opener, slated for broadcast on ESPN3 and WVUM 90.5 FM, is set for 6 p.m.