For the 16th straight year, the No. 7 ranked Miami Hurricanes took the field inside Alex Rodriguez Park at Mark Light Field as members of the Atlantic Coast Conference for their first league game of the season.
If the rest of the conference slate is anything like the opener, it will be a long season as the ‘Canes needed eleven innings and a deep homer from first baseman Alex Toral – his second of the day – to get the 5-4 win in a rare Friday afternoon matchup against the Pittsburgh Panthers.
The ‘Canes (9-4, 1-0), who were looking to bounce back after getting thoroughly thumped earlier in the week 11-2 on the road at Florida Atlantic, struggled early on after left fielder Jordan Lala led off the game for a single before Pittsburgh (10-3, 0-1) starting pitcher Billy Corcoran retired the next nine batters - but the ‘Canes struck first and got solo home runs from shortstop Anthony Vilar and Toral in the fourth inning.
Van Belle was nearly flawless through the first five innings before running into trouble in the sixth inning with two Panthers batters getting on base before Van Belle struck out designated hitter Ron Washington to end the threat.
Toral added two more RBI’s in the bottom of the inning with a single that drove in Lala and catcher Adrian Del Castillo, part of a four RBI day for the Davie native and Archbishop McCarthy grad.
Van Belle ran into more trouble in the seventh inning, allowing two runs to score on a ground rule double from catcher Riley Wash – an Altamonte Springs native and one of six players on the roster for Pittsburgh from the Sunshine State – before leaving the game after going six and a third innings pitched, allowing five hits and striking out five while walking two batters.
Pittsburgh got even in the top of the eighth inning on a double down the left field line by Samuel Frontino followed by a single to left field by first baseman Bryce Hulett –another Florida native from Lake Wales – to tie the game at four before ‘Canes closer Daniel Federman was able to get out of the inning and later the ninth, but Miami couldn’t score and the game went into extras.
JP Gates came in to pitch the 11th inning and got his first victory of the season. Miami and Pittsburgh meet for game two in the series Saturday at 7 p.m. with game three on Sunday at 1 p.m.