CORAL GABLES, Fla. -- They came to pay homage to their top-ranked Miami Hurricanes and enjoy a laugher over unranked and unknown UMBC in the process.
But the 4,044 fans who packed Mark Light Stadium last night left white-knuckled and breathless after Miami escaped with a 3-1 victory in the first round of the NCAA Atlantic Regional baseball tournament.
"That was a really good team we played, but I think we showed we've got a pretty good team, too," UMBC coach John Jancuska said. "I'd really like another shot at them."
For that to happen, the Retrievers (37-12) must get past Delaware -- a 6-2 loser to North Carolina State yesterday -- in an 11:30 a.m. losers' bracket game today.
Miami left-hander Jeff Alkire overwhelmed UMBC -- which entered the tournament with a .347 batting average -- on a four-hit, 10-strikeout evening. But it was an errant pickoff attempt in the fourth inning that ruined the Retrievers' first tournament appearance.
UMBC first baseman Shawn Shugars botched a routine pickoff attempt from pitcher Craig Grasser, enabling Miami (50-7) to tie the game at 1. Later in the inning, Gino DiMare's two-out single scored what proved to be the winning run, and Miami hung on for the victory.
"Everyone was talking about how this game was going to be an easy one for us," said Miami coach Ron Fraser. "Not me. I knew better. We pulled this one out, but we've got to start hitting. We can't keep relying on our pitchers like we have."
The Hurricanes had won 27 of their previous 29.
But the Retrievers took a 1-0 lead before many of the fans had settled into their seats.
Leadoff batter Greg Elliott hit Alkire's fourth pitch down the line in left for a double, triggering a mocking cheer among the fans.
But when Shugars hit the next pitch over the head of center fielder Johnathen Smith for a run-scoring double, the crowd was speechless.
"That got us going," said Grasser. "We knew we could play with those guys, and scoring that quick proved it."
UMBC loaded the bases with two out in the inning, but John Burns flied out to get Miami off the hook.
That was the end of UMBC's offense. Alkire settled down and allowed two hits the rest of the way.
The Retrievers clung to their 1-0 lead until Miami got to Grasser.
Grasser had wriggled out of jams in each of the first three innings. He left the bases loaded in the first and stranded a runner at second in the next two innings.
But with one out in the fourth, Chad Rupp doubled down the line in left, and speedster Juan Llaves reached base on a bunt single, putting runners on the corners.
That's when things fell apart for UMBC. Grasser's pickoff throw got past Shugars, enabling Rupp to trot home with the tying run.
A bunt single by Luis Hernandez put runners on the corners.
Grasser looked as if he might get out of the inning without any further damage when he picked off Hernandez for the second out. But leadoff batter DiMare singled under the glove of diving Andy Coleman at third to score Llaves with what proved to be the winning run.