DURHAM, N.C. – Down 10-4 with only six outs remaining, the Duke baseball team rallied for five runs in the bottom of the eighth before scoring two more in the ninth to stun NC State 11-10 in the series finale Sunday afternoon at Jack Coombs Field. Senior Jordan Betts and redshirt junior Aaron Cohn each belted a home run in the eighth before Cohn provided the ninth-inning heroics with a walkoff RBI single to clinch the series for the Blue Devils.
With two runs in the eighth, NC State (20-15, 6-12 ACC) bolstered its lead to a formidable six runs heading into the final two frames. Back-to-back walks set the table for Betts, who unleashed a towering three-run home run over the bull in left field to bring Duke (20-17, 9-9) within striking distance. Redshirt junior Chris Marconcini kept the rally going with a base knock before Cohn belted his first career home run, a two-run bomb to left, to trim the deficit to a single run.
Pinch hitter Cameron Neal was struck by a pitch for the second time in as many plate appearances this season to lead off the ninth. A Wolfpack throwing error on a Mark Lumpa sacrifice bunt then allowed the game-tying run to cross home plate. NC State issued intentional passes to Betts and Marconcini to load the bases for Cohn, and the Palm Beach Gardens, Fla., native proceeded to drive the first pitch he saw through the left side.
“I had the feeling they were going to walk the bases loaded and it was probably going to come down to me,” Cohn said. “After the two walks with nowhere to put me, I had the feeling they were going to throw a fastball, so I went up there sitting fastball first pitch and got it.”
Betts also added a solo shot in the fifth, his first home run of the season, and tied his career high with four RBI. Junior Andy Perez reached base in all five of his plate appearances, going 4-for-4 with a walk, a run scored, an RBI and two stolen bases. In total, five Blue Devils amassed multiple hits with Marconcini and junior Grant McCabe also adding two apiece.
Second baseman Logan Ratledge paced an NC State offense which totaled 13 hits. Ratledge went 3-for-4 with four RBI and added a two-run homer to cap off a four-run seventh for the Wolfpack. Third baseman Andrew Knizner contributed three hits, three RBI and two runs scored, while shortstop Trea Turner scored four runs and drove in two.
NC State pounced early, utilizing a leadoff walk to Turner in the first. Back-to-back RBI doubles from Knizner and Ratledge put the Wolfpack on top, 2-0. Duke responded with an unearned run on a Marconcini RBI double in the bottom half.
The Wolfpack put single tallies on the board in both the third and fourth innings to expand the margin to 4-1 at the midway point. Duke was able to trim the lead to 4-3 after the sixth, but NC State erupted for four runs in the seventh and two more in the eighth to take the sizeable lead.
Turner drew his third walk of the afternoon in the seventh and Brett Austin came up with an RBI double to kickstart the inning. Knizner added an RBI base knock prior to Ratledge’s home run, his fifth on the year. Turner then added an RBI and a run scored in the eighth to put NC State on top 10-4.
Undeterred, the Blue Devils rallied late to erase the six-run disadvantage and win their 20th game of the season.
“That was the hardest I’ve gotten on our team this year,” said head coach Chris Pollard. “We need to understand as a team that we need to play hard till the very last pitch. So I got on them pretty good in the middle of the eighth. Whether it lit a fire or not, I was really impressed with the way we came out and responded to it.”
Junior Andrew Istler (4-5) came away with the victory after striking out a pair in a scoreless top of the ninth. D.J. Thomas (2-1) suffered the loss, allowing two runs, one earned, in the bottom of the inning.
Duke is set for a pair of midweek contests as the Blue Devils host Davidson Tuesday, April 15 before traveling to N.C. Central Wednesday, April 16.