BY GEORGE RICHARDS
The University of Miami baseball team got in a warm-up Wednesday night as it enters a critical stretch of the season. As soon as the Hurricanes finished off visiting Bethune-Cookman 5-3, Miami's focus turned to the coming weeks.
Miami, winners of 11 of 12 since being swept at home by Georgia Tech last month, visits 14th ranked North Carolina for a three game series starting Friday. After another mid-week match against South Florida, longtime rival Florida State visits next weekend.
“We have a very tough schedule to finish here, there's no doubt about that,'' said coach Jim Morris, who won his 800th game at UM last Sunday against Maryland. Miami also has to visit top-ranked Virginia as the regular season winds down.
“I think we're playing better, but we have a big test the next few weeks. The question will be answered whether we can play at that top level that we want to.''
Bethune-Cookman (22-19) gave Miami all it could handle on Wednesday although the Hurricanes took control in the second inning and never trailed again after getting three in that inning. The Wildcats did threaten, however, and had bases loaded with two outs in the ninth before reliever Daniel Miranda got Alejandro Sanchez to fly out to right field.
“Bethune always has a good team, they're in the NCAA tournament just about every year,'' Morris said. “A lot of times we end up playing them. So this may have been a little preview of the NCAA tournament.''
The Wildcats took a 1-0 lead in the first when Sanchez scored on a fielder's choice but Miami (25-12) bounced right back and jumped all over starter Julio Morales (1-1) as Harold Martinez and Brad Fieger hitting solo home runs to lead off the second.
With one out in the inning, Zeke DeVoss laced a shot between first and second to score Stephen Perez to give Miami a 3-1 lead. Morales didn't finish the inning, with Bryan Rivera closing it out. Rony Rodriguez was one of the few Canes to have success against Rivera as he led off the third with a home run.
Rivera never came out, pitching through the eighth as he matched Canes starter Steven Ewing (6-1) for much of the night. Aside from the solo homer from Rodriguez, Miami's only run off Rivera came when Nathan Melendres scored from third on a passed ball in the seventh to make it 5-2.
Ewing went seven innings, giving up two runs off the fielder's choice and a solo shot from Emmanuel Castro to lead off the fourth. Ewing surrendered five hits and struck out 10.
The Wildcats added a run in the eighth off reliever Adam Sargent when David Lee – who made some terrific defensive plays in center – scored on a grounder from Castro. Sargent was pulled with runners on first and third and two outs, with Sam Robinson getting Ryan Durrence to ground out, ending the threat.
“We're coming up against UNC and from now on, we're playing the best teams in the ACC,'' said DeVoss, UM's leadoff man who extended his hitting streak to nine games by going 2-for-3. “We're going to have to be on our game to get some victories.''