Forced to make a change in his pitching rotation because of the congested schedule, Miami coach Jim Morris went with midweek starter Jesse Lepore in the top-seeded Hurricanes’ pool-play opener against ninth-seeded Georgia Tech in the ACC baseball tournament.
Lepore (9-0) didn’t disappoint. The sophomore right-hander allowed only three hits in six innings, and Miami capitalized on first-inning control problems by Georgia Tech freshman Jake Lee to post a 4-0 victory Wednesday at Durham Bulls Athletic Park.
Miami (44-10), ranked as high as No. 2 nationally, will play N.C. State at 7 p.m. Thursday. The fifth-seeded Wolfpack lost 7-3 to fourth-seeded Florida State in Wednesday’s first game. Georgia Tech (36-21) will meet Florida State at 3 p.m.
“The weekend before, we played Thursday, Friday, Saturday,” Morris explained of his pitching choice. “And the week before that we happened to be the Monday night game, so we played Saturday, Sunday, Monday. So it kind of changed our pitching rotation a little bit.
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“We had confidence in Jesse. He had pitched well all year in those midweek games, and we felt like we wanted to rest our pitching to make sure they had proper rest going into this weekend. And every weekend from here on is bigger and bigger,” adding that Lepore had earned a start in the next weekend’s NCAA regional with his effort.
Lepore said he was excited to make his first start against an ACC opponent. “I felt like I had a lot to prove, not only to everyone else but to myself as well,” he said.
Lepore started the seventh inning and had a 1-1 count on Brandt Stallings before Morris and the Miami trainer were summoned to the mound when Lepore experienced a muscle spasm in his shoulder. After a brief conference, freshman right-hander Frankie Bartow took over for Lepore.
“No worries, just a little fatigue and we’re good,” Lepore said. “Working toward the next start.”
Lee (3-3), who was hammered for 10 hits and eight runs over four innings in a 17-6 loss to Miami on May 9, didn’t get out of the first inning this time. He recorded only one out as he struggled to find the strike zone, walking the second and third batters he faced before Brandon Lopez lined an RBI single up the middle. Lee then walked Johnny Ruiz to load the bases and gave way to junior left-hander Ben Parr.
Willie Abreu drove in a second run with an infield single, and Randy Batista made it 3-0 with a squeeze bunt down the first-base line.
Parr held the Hurricanes in check after that, allowing only two more hits in 6 2/3 innings of shutout relief. But the damage was done.
Zack Collins hit a solo home run, his 12th of the season, in the eighth off reliever Micah Carpenter to complete the scoring.
Bartow threw two innings of hitless relief, and Bryan Garcia struck out pinch-hitter Arden Pabst with the bases loaded in the ninth to preserve the shutout.
Louisville 9, Wake Forest 5: Sophomore right-hander Kade McClure struck out a career-high 11, and Will Smith slugged two home runs and drove in five RBIs as the second-seeded Cardinals overpowered the 10th-seeded Deacons for their 10th straight win and 17th in their past 18 games.
Blake Tiberi and Nick Solak also homered for third-ranked Louisville (47-10), which will return to action at 11 a.m. Friday against Clemson in Pool B. Wake Forest (33-25) will play Virginia at 3 p.m. Friday.
McClure (12-0), the Cardinals’ midweek starter, had struck out 10 in his previous outing against Indiana on May 17, also a six-inning effort. He threw 102 pitches against the Deacons, giving up four hits, a walk and a hit batter. Over one stretch McClure retired 11 consecutive batters, including six on strikeouts. Four Louisville pitchers combined for 17 strikeouts overall.
Wake Forest had taken a 2-0 lead in the first on Stuart Fairchild’s RBI double and Will Craig’s run-scoring single. Louisville got one run back in its half of the first on a sacrifice fly by Solak.
“I was leaving pitches up early in the game,” McClure said. “I just needed to make adjustments. I told myself I had to get down in the zone.”
“Kade’s arguably one of the best midweek starters we’ve ever had, combined with one of the best weekend staffs we’ve ever had,” Louisville coach Dan McDonnell said. “It’s a nice luxury. I didn’t realize it until last week, we went undefeated (in midweek games). To be that consistent, it says a lot about our club. … Basically we did today what we’ve done all year. No panic.”
Tiberi wiped out a 2-1 Wake Forest lead with his two-run homer against junior right-hander John McCarren (7-3) in the fourth. The Cardinals broke it open with the long ball after chasing McCarren in the fifth. With one out and one on, Ryan Morse replaced McCarren, walked Corey Ray on four pitches and was replaced by Chris Farish, who fared even worse.
Smith jumped on his first pitch and powered a three-run homer. Two pitches later, Solak drilled his fourth home run over the snorting Durham Bull behind left field.
Smith added a bases-loaded sacrifice fly in the sixth and a solo homer in the eighth. Solak nearly went back-to-back with Smith a second time, but Fairchild climbed the wall to snag his drive to left-center.
The Deacons made things interesting in the eighth when they rallied for three runs against the Cardinals’ bullpen. But Ben Breazeale was thrown out at the plate to end the inning by left fielder Ryan Summers when Brezeale tried to score from second on a bad-hop single by Joey Rodriguez.