Right from the opening inning, Miami baseball was left searching for a spark out of its lineup to erase a three-run deficit.
Then freshman designated hitter Zach Levenson hit his first collegiate grand slam.
Levenson’s blast lifted No. 6 Miami ahead for good in a 16-10 win over Central Florida on a windy evening Wednesday at Mark Light Field.
“I was just worried about putting up a good at-bat with the bases loaded and just put a good swing on it,” Levenson said. “Lately, we’ve just been going back to basics and getting our fundamentals right. I think everyone has just gotten a lot calmer and looser at the plate and I think that’s really helped us out as a team.”
The Hurricanes won their fifth straight contest and avoided a season sweep after losing to the Knights on the road for the first time ever March 16.
Ten or more hits led Miami (36-12, 17-7 Atlantic Coast Conference) to beat an opponent for the fifth straight time, having not beaten its in-state foe at home in over 12 years.
“We swung the bat really well throughout the lineup, hit a lot of balls hard and a lot of balls all over the field,” Miami head coach Gino DiMare said. “I’d like to see us hit the ball the other way, I thought we did a good job of that tonight.”
Central Florida leadoff hitter Gephry Pena, hitless against Miami in the teams’ first meeting of the season in Orlando, led off with a triple to right field. A pair of RBI base hits from left fielder Lex Boedicker and Andrew Sundean helped push the Knights ahead 3-0 early.
Garland retired the next five of seven Knights batters before allowing an RBI single to right fielder Tom Josten.
Sophomore first baseman CJ Kayfus answered with a one-out solo home run in the third.
Central Florida third baseman Michael Brooks and Pena each added RBI singles in the fourth to slice the Knights’ deficit to 11-6. Garland struck out three straight and stranded two runners, nonetheless.
Right-handed reliever Ronaldo Gallo relieved Garland in the fifth. UCF’s order scored five earned runs on 10 hits off Garland, who collected five strikeouts.
A leadoff triple from sophomore third baseman Yohandy Morales began another Miami rally in the fifth. Junior catcher Maxwell Romero, who tied a career-high three hits, added an RBI single before sophomore first baseman CJ Kayfus capped off a four-run inning with a two-run double.
“Jake’s definitely picked us up before, so it was time for the hitters to pick him up,” Kayfus said. “We’ve talked about it before, it’s just really contagious when more guys are hitting. It just makes it that much easier.”
In the seventh, junior reliever Anthony Arguelles filled Gallo, who struck out three of the first batters he retired upon entering.
“He’s our first guy to go to when we got long relief. He’s been our most effective guy of late,” DiMare said. “I’d like to see us have more effective guys. We were playing really well and had that streak going and I kept saying our bullpen is, to me, the difference.”
The Knights (28-20, 11-7 American) weren’t done in the late innings, nonetheless.
Josten hit a two-run home run following a one-run double from Riley Wash, a former Pittsburgh transfer, in a pinch-hitting situation.
In the eighth, sophomore right-hander Alejandro Torres surrendered a home run to first baseman Cole Russo for his first in college baseball. The solo shot trimmed UM’s lead to 15-10.
“I would like to see us pitch a little bit better, we just weren’t very sharp. We’ve got to command the pitches we’re trying to execute better and not fall behind,” DiMare said. “We just gave up too many hits and too many home runs.”
Both teams combined for 25 strikeouts, yet hit a combined 11-for-17 in leadoff hitting situations.
Gallo (2-0) earned the win, while UCF starter Will Saxton (4-4) was charged with the loss.
UCF used seven different relievers, the last six combining to throw seven innings once right-hander Ruddy Gomez didn’t record an out in the second.
Six different Hurricanes hitters finished with multi-hit outings, including Levenson, who hit his sixth home run of the year and produced a one-out RBI single in the fifth.
“It’s been a dream come true to come play at this university,” Levenson said. “Obviously Miami versus Florida State, that’s always a game you want to be in. Just nothing more exciting than to do this this weekend.”
The Hurricanes will travel to Tallahassee for a three-game series at Florida State starting Friday at Dick Howser Stadium. First pitch is scheduled for 7 p.m.