GAINESVILLE -- The Hurricanes' baseball team defeated Jacksonville 7-2 today in the NCAA Gainesville regional, but until the eighth, it was anyone's game.
UM (37-21) sent 10 batters to the plate in the eighth inning, scoring four runs on three hits. Four of their seven runs today were unearned, thanks to three errors by Jacksonville. UM is definitely underwhelming in the hitting department, but has been stellar on the mound with a bunch of outstanding young arms.
Kudos to UM left-handed sophomore starter Steven Ewing, who put in a heck of a performance today. He gave up only one hit in six innings, and allowed one run on a sacrifice fly. He was UM's No. 4 midweek guy all season, and raised his record to 8-2 and lowered his ERA to 2.58.
Speaking of ERAs, the starter who has the Canes' lowest ERA -- right-handed sophomore Eric Whaley (7-5, 2.55) -- will start tomorrow against Florida (46-16). Whaley lost to the Gators March 6, allowing four runs (three earned) on six hits in 5.1 innings. He gave up four doubles and a home run that day.
But Whaley, who throws a fastball, changeup and slider, has had a terrific season. He has started 15 games, and opponents are hitting .221 against him. He has 79 Ks. Whaley's problem is the rest of his teammates. They haven't hit when he's pitching.
"It happens, I guess,'' he told me earlier this week. "I'm pitching against good pitchers. I mean, at the beginning of the year we hit a lot when I was pitching but now there hasn't been as many runs. But that's just because they're going against good pitchers, too. You can't blame it all on [the Hurricanes].''
Whaley said this week that his "arm will be fresh for sure'' in the regional. He pitched two solid innings against Virginia in the ACC Tournament, allowing no runs and three hits before the rain came and he was taken out for good.
The Gators will pitch right-handed ace Hudson Randall (9-3, 2.25).
If Whaley can prevail, that would save UM's ace, Bryan Radziewski (9-2, 3.30) and E.J. Encinosa (5-5, 2.90 with a memorable performance against UF on March 5, when he allowed one run on five hits in 7 innings, but got the loss because UM was one-hit) for key games this weekend.
Shoutouts are in order for second baseman Zeke DeVoss, catcher Corey Janson and left fielder Rony Rodriguez. DeVoss has now reached base safely in 14 of 18 plate appearances this postseason for a .692 postseason average. The second baseman has reached base as the leadoff hitter in five consecutive games.
Rodriguez doubled in one run today and hit into a fielder's choice for another RBI.
And freshman Janson came through big-time today with his first career home run -- to right field. Turns out Janson missed several weeks this season after undergoing emergency surgery Feb. 2 for a perforated ulcer. He has only played in eight games and had two hits coming into today's game.
"Since then it’s been a process of coming back to full strength and I’m finally feeling good,'' Janson said. "It felt great to first of all contribute to the win and help the team out. After my first at-bat I kind of pulled off the ball a little bit and [assistant coach] Roger [Tomas] came over to me and he reminded me to let the ball get deep and stay on it and he gave me an outside fastball and I did just that. I stayed on it and the ball carried well and it was a home run."
Corey, by the way, has a great brain. Not only was he an A student at Flanagan High (he is from Weston), he has a 3.97 grade point average at UM and is on a full academic scholarship.
UM coach Jim Morris seemed surprised that he didn't have a 4.0 gpa.
"I got an A-minus in business law,'' Janson said to Morris as they left the postgame news conference.
Stay tuned to tomorrow's big game. The Gators obliterated Manhattan 17-3 today. They scored 16 runs in the first three innings. UM has lost 9 of its past 10 games against UF -- and has been eliminated by the Gators in the NCAA tourney the past two years.
--SUSAN MILLER DEGNAN