The Long And Winding Road Home | Sixth Ring Canes

The innings were running out. Miami had won 5 series in a row, but having lost the opener to Duke in a critical series, the Canes found themselves down 5 in the 8th.

Miami has a flair for the dramatic, earning the nickname “Cardiac Canes.” But this felt a bridge too far. Duke is a strong team this year and had been the better team through 16 innings.

And then it happened.

The Canes dug deep for something they hadn’t shown all weekend, and started rallying.

But if you’re familiar with the 2023 Miami Hurricanes, you’ll know nothing was easy.

Catcher Carlos Perez hit what looked to be a game-tying HR, but it was caught at the warning track. A strikeout left 2 men on base, and the Canes had only cut the lead to 2.

And then in the 9th, the Canes rallied again, but found themselves with the bases loaded and 2 outs, 1 out away from losing the series, and likely a chance to host Regionals. And it was up to new starter Renzo Gonzalez to deliver, and he did, blooping a game tying single. The Canes had the winning run 90-feet from home, but Perez struck out.

In the 10th, the Canes loaded the bases with no out. Surely, they would win here.

But if you’re familiar with the 2023 Miami Hurricanes, you’ll know nothing was easy.

After a groundout with a bang-bang play at the plate, Zach Levenson walked. Except the umpire decided to call what was pretty clearly ball 4 (and should have ended the game) as strike 3. The Canes failed to score.

But if you’re familiar with the 2023 Miami Hurricanes, you’ll know they never quit. 

In the 11th inning, with a runner on 2nd and 1 out, Perez was presented with another opportunity. This time he took it, depositing a pitch over the right-field wall, sending the Light into euphoria, and ensuring the Canes would host a regional. #9 overall Miami (and top seed in the Coral Gables Regional) welcomes #2 Texas, #3 Louisiana, and #4 Maine to Coral Gables this week.

Strengthened by Failure

The Canes were in this position last year. In a better position, in fact. As a National Seed, they merely needed to win at the Light across two weekends to make it back to Omaha for the first time since 2016. Rain was the story of the weekend, as a tropical system compressed the schedule.

Miami’s season ended astonishingly and abruptly. On Sunday morning, as they awoke, Miami was in the Winner’s bracket game against Mississippi. By the end of the night, their season was over, having lost consecutive 1-run games. Ole Miss would go on to win the National Championship.

The story of those two 1-run losses was that the Canes’ bats disappeared. After scoring 11 runs in an opening win against Canisius, Miami scored 4 runs in 2 games. The story was the hitting, the continued postseason failures, and a team that was unsalvageable.

As is usually the case, the details are a lot murkier. The Canes were so close to winning that Ole Miss game and taking a major step towards hosting a Super Regional. In fact, there were 2 outs and no one on in the 7th inning, the Canes just 7 outs from victory. Then, back-to-back singles and a double and all of a sudden, it was 2-1 Ole Miss. They’d win by that score.

Then there was the Arizona game. Even if the Canes won, they would have also then had to beat Ole Miss twice. But they took the lead into the 9th. Andrew Walters, the nation’s best closer, struck out the first two batters. And the 3rd grounded to short for what should have been a game ending out. Instead, the throw was missed and a wild pitch, a hit by pitch, and a 2-run double followed, plating the tying and winning runs.

Twice, the Canes had 2 outs and no one on, and twice they muddled around to get into a jam, and twice they gave up back-breaking, crippling doubles.

With the catastrophic end to the season, the UM Administration logically but controversially kept faith with Gino DiMare, extending his contract.

Resiliency and Redemption

This season has been anything but smooth. The Canes were swept 3 times (by 3 National Seeds) and dealt with a multitude of injuries, in particular on the mound. There were season-ending injuries to several bullpen arms and ace Karson Ligon was also injured for much of the year, while key pitchers like Alejandro Rosario and Ronaldo Gallo struggled. The Canes had one reliable starter, Gage Ziehl.

When Virginia swept the Canes in Charlottesville, Miami’s season was on the brink. But where last year’s Canes were knocked out by a sucker punch, the 2023 Canes responded. They were one strike away from clinching a critical road series at UNC, but gave up a solo HR and then lost in extra innings on a walk-off HR. They responded a few hours later in a double-header, with Gallo starting after having given up the aforementioned walk-off HR.

The next weekend, they were crushed 11-0 in the second game of a 3-game set against Louisville, with their season teetering again. And they trailed early in the 3rd game…but these Canes are different. And they fought back to win the game and series.

A team that had been saddled with the label of “can’t win on the road” had rallied to win two crucial road series. And after rallying to win the Duke series, they came from behind to beat them again in the ACC Tournament, before dominating the #1 team in the country on the strength of Ligon and Rosario’s pitching, something that had not been there much of the season.

The 2023 Miami Hurricanes combine the type of selective amnesia necessary in baseball with the unwavering self belief to always get off the mat.

Gino DiMare talked this week about how the school always has Omaha expectations, but also stressed that the program hasn’t been to Super Regionals recently, and you can’t get to Omaha without getting out of Regionals first.

The Canes embark on that journey today, hoping it leads back to their home in Omaha. Success is not guaranteed, baseball is a funny sport.

Sometimes the bats don’t work.

Sometimes a pitcher doesn’t have it.

But one thing is for certain. Regardless of how this Canes season ends, it won’t be feebly. This 2023 team is tough and together.

They feel like not like “a” team but like “the” team.

And they can credit a fair bit of their resilience to the mountains they’ve had to climb to get here.

Vishnu Parasuraman is a journalist for @FiveReasonsSports. He covers the Miami Hurricanes for Sixth Ring Canes and Formula 1 for Hitting the Apex. You can follow him on twitter @vrp2003

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