Miami baseball in midst of longest winning streak in 36 years

RedHawks can match program’s longest streak — 14 games — with a win Saturday vs. Kent State

Landon Stephens needed some time to get over the loss in December of his grandfather, George Stephens, but the Miami third baseman and Hamilton High School product is proving how well he’s adjusted.

While he’s at it, the junior is helping the RedHawks win at a historic pace.

Miami traveled to Richmond, Ky., Wednesday and knocked off Eastern Kentucky, 8-4. Stephens contributed a first-inning home run, his third of the season, and the RedHawks opened up an 8-0 lead while rolling to their 13th consecutive win.

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That’s Miami’s longest winning streak since the 1983 team won a program-record 14 straight games, a mark the RedHawks can match on Saturday with the opener of a three-game series at Kent State in the Mid-American Conference opener. The teams will play a doubleheader after Friday’s game was postponed due to inclement weather.

Miami hasn’t been just winning. The RedHawks have been bludgeoning opponents. They went into the Eastern Kentucky game averaging 9.92 runs per game and winning by an average margin of seven runs during the streak.

Stephens finds that level of production somewhat surprising.

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“I would say it’s odd to the extent that we lost two guys who were pretty important to our offense last year,” said Stephens, who has started every game and is hitting .276 while being tied for the team lead with three home runs, ranking third with 15 runs batted in and second with eight doubles. “Coming back, I knew I had to step into a leadership and help define what we needed to do and how hard we had to work.”

Sixth-year coach Danny Hayden considers the dynamic offense as the natural byproduct of sticking to a system until it finally clicks for the players, especially veterans such as Stephens, right fielder Mackay Williams and center fielder Christian Tejada.

“We definitely had a lot of guys back who made pretty significant contributions, but we also overhauled our approach last year,” Hayden said. “This is their second year. It’s another year. They’ve had a whole summer to work this, another fall of the hitting coach talking to them. It’s another year of confidence. Their growth has been significant. They’re developing.”

Williams, a senior, leads Miami with a .389 batting average and is second on the team with 17 RBIs. Tejada, the sophomore leadoff hitter, is right behind at .387.

The RedHawks also have gotten boosts from a couple of newcomers. Junior first baseman Charlie Harrigan, a junior college transfer, leads the RedHawks with 23 runs batted in, and freshman designated hitter Cole Andrews is batting .353. Junior catcher Cal Elvers is at .326.

The eye-catching offense has somewhat overshadowed what has been a solid overall pitching performance. The RedHawks go into conference play leading the MAC with a 3.48 team earned-run average. Senior right-hander Bailey Martin improved to 4-1 with the win over the Colonels. Senior right-hander Jack Corbell and freshman right-hander Sam Bachman both are 3-0, while junior left-hander Nick Urbantke has a 0.82 ERA in 11 innings over four games, one of them a start. Senior right-hander Shane Smith is 2-0 has a 2.30 ERA in 15-2/3 innings over six games, all in relief.

“Our starters have done a good job, but we have a lot of really good arms in the bullpen,” Hayden said. “They get frustrated. They want the ball more, and they want it for longer. The bullpen has just been incredible the first four or five weeks.”

Opening MAC play against the Golden Flashes might be just what Miami needs to avoid complacency. The RedHawks, who are scheduled to play a non-conference game at Louisville on Wednesday before opening their conference home schedule next Friday with the first of a three-game series against Eastern Michigan, still are somewhat upset about being picked in a preseason conference coaches’ poll to finish only third in the MAC. Kent State was picked to win.

“We try not to totally buy into that,” Stephens said. “When we saw it, we were shocked. It will be interesting.”

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