DURHAM, N.C. – Nate Freiman launched two home runs and sent in four RBI to lead Duke to an 11-3 win over UNC Greensboro Wednesday afternoon at Jack Coombs Field.
It was the second multi-home run game of the season for Freiman, who now boasts four long balls, 13 RBI, a .391 average and a .957 slugging percentage on the season. Junior Alex Hassan also homered and reached base safely in all five of his plate appearances, drawing two walks, singling twice and mashing a two-run homer. Hassan also stole a base for the first time this season.
Duke (6-1) scored 11 runs on 13 hits, scoring in double digits for the third time this season. The win was the sixth straight for the Blue Devils and was credited to junior reliever Michael Ness (1-0), who came into the game in the second inning and gave up just two hits until exiting at the end of the fifth. He struck out two and walked one while lowering his season ERA to 1.35.
Leadoff man Ryan McCurdy also had his first multi-RBI day for the Blue Devils after tagging a two-run single in the fourth that was part of a six-run inning for the Blue Devils. Of Duke’s five extra-base hits in the game, three came in that inning. Along with Hassan and Freiman, catcher Matt Williams, shortstop Jake Lemmerman and outfielder Will Piwnica-Worms also had multiple hits on the day.
UNC Greensboro reliever Alex Shelton (0-1) took the loss after giving up five of the runs in Duke’s big inning. He went just 1.2 inning surrendering six hits and five earned runs. Center fielder Corey Overholtzer had two of UNC Greensboro’s RBI, while catcher Trevor Edwards sent in the other run with an RBI single. The Spartans fell to 1-5 on the year.
UNC Greensboro wasted no time getting on the board and took a 1-0 lead in the first inning on an RBI single from Edwards. Edwards’ base knock came with two runners in scoring position and would have scored both, but Overholtzer, who occupied second base before the hit, failed to touch third base on his way to the plate. Duke pitching coach Sean Snedeker called for starting pitcher Jonathan Foreman to appeal before his next pitch, and Foreman flipped the ball over to third base and got the call for the second out of the inning. Foreman then rebounded to strike out UNC Greensboro left fielder Drew Gehringer on four pitches to end the inning.
After a scoreless bottom of the first from the Blue Devils, Foreman struggled to locate his pitches in the second and put two men on base with consecutive walks. He got his breaking ball working just in time though, and escaped the jam with a strikeout and a popup in foul territory. He got nine-hitter Brent O’Berry swinging on a 1-2 breaking ball that started in the top of the strike zone and fell off the table into Williams’ mitt for the second out before getting some help from his third baseman to end the inning. McCurdy made a difficult play on a ball popped into foul territory, tracking the high fly to the fence and making the catch right next to the wall.
Ness took over on the mound for Foreman at the start of the third inning and struck out the first batter he faced on the way to a scoreless inning. The only base runner he allowed was on an infield single down the third base line, but McCurdy and second baseman Gabriel Saade teamed up on a double play – the first of three in the game for Duke – to get Ness out of the inning.
The Blue Devils responded with their first hit of the game in the third inning, a two-out single belted to left field by Hassan. Outfielder Jeremy Gould then stepped to the plate and crushed the second pitch he saw to left field, but the line drive was hit right at UNC Greensboro outfielder Gehringer for the third out.
Ness came out in the top of the fourth and sat down the Spartans in order with three groundouts. Ness needed just eight pitches to get through the inning, which was the first 1-2-3 frame for either team.
Meanwhile, Duke’s offense finally showed some life in the bottom of the fourth as the Blue Devils strung together six hits – including an RBI triple by Saade, a two-run homer by Hassan and a two-run single by McCurdy – to score six runs and take a 6-1 lead. Saade’s triple to the left field gap plated Williams, who started the rally with a base knock to right field, and set him up to score on an ensuing base knock to right field by Lemmerman. Piwnica-Worms followed that up with a double to right field that skipped out of the glove of a sliding Pedro Leon in right field. The double put both Piwnica-Worms and Lemmerman in scoring position, setting the table for McCurdy, who came through with a base hit to right field that scored both runners. That knock prompted UNC Greensboro to bring in right-hander Matt Parish, who Hassan promptly welcomed to the game with a first-pitch home run. Hassan’s line drive shot easily cleared the left field wall and was his second long ball of the season and the eighth of his career.
Ness came out in the fifth and fired another scoreless inning before Freiman added to Duke’s lead with his third homer of the season in the bottom half of the inning. The leadoff bomb ran Duke’s lead to 7-1 and also moved Freiman into a tie for ninth place on Duke’s all-time home run list, a spot he would not spend much time in as he followed with another bomb in his next at bat to jump to eighth place.
Ness handed the ball over to sophomore Ryan Knott in the sixth inning, and the freshman right-hander struck out two of the three batters he faced to keep UNC Greensboro scoreless for the fifth straight inning. Knott did give up his first hit of the season when Gehringer slipped a ground ball up the middle that just got under Lemmerman’s glove, but he responded by striking out the next batter for the first out of an inning-ending double play. After receiving the third strike, Williams fired down to Gould at first base to pick off Gehringer. Gehringer initiated a rundown, but was eventually tagged out on the way back to first base.
Freiman mashed his second home run of the game in the bottom of the sixth to send in three runs and push Duke’s lead to 10-1. The second shot came on a 1-1 count and was hit to the left field power alley, scoring Hassan and Gould, who both drew walks. It also came off of UNC Greensboro’s freshly-inserted right-hander Blake Hassebrock, who started the inning, faced five batters and retired just one. After giving up another walk to Williams after Freiman’s home run, Hassebrock was taken out in favor of right-hander Warren Slack. Slack had more success than Hassebrock, retiring two of the three batters he faced to offset a single he allowed to Lemmerman.
Knott racked up two more strikeouts in the seventh, but gave up a pair of extra-base hits that led to a two-run inning for the Spartans. The first base knock was hard-hit line drive to left field that got past the glove of a diving Tom Luciano and rolled to the warning track to allow Frederick to stretch his hit into a double. Snedeker then took a trip to the mound to talk with Knott, and he responded with a four-pitch strikeout for the second out. But Overholtzer managed to squeak two runs out of the inning with a two-out triple that cleared the bases.
Duke reclaimed one of the runs in the seventh, however, thanks to an RBI single from Hassan that allowed him to reach base safely for the fifth time in the game. Hassan’s single to right, his third hit of the game, scored Luciano from second base after the sophomore outfielder drew a walk in his first at bat of the game and moved to second on a passed ball.
Duke called on a pair of previously unseen freshmen to close out the final two innings. Classmates Ben Grisz and Joe Pedevillano each made their first pitching appearances of the year, and held off the Spartans for two scoreless innings to end the game. Grisz took over in the eighth and allowed just one hit, while Pedevillano stepped on in the ninth and retired all three batters he faced.
Duke will next head to High Point (3-2) on Thursday, March 5, for a 4 p.m. meeting with the Panthers. Duke will put freshman Trevor Cesar (0-0) on the mound for his first career pitching appearance.