DURHAM, N.C. – Gabriel Saade drove in the tying and winning runs with a two-out single in the bottom of the ninth to propel Duke to a 5-4 win over Valparaiso Wednesday evening at Jack Coombs Field.
The hit was the third of the game for Saade and the second game-winning base knock of the season for the sophomore second baseman. Saade’s two-out line drive up the middle was one of four hits in the bottom of the ninth as Duke (11-0) scored three runs to rally from a 4-2 deficit on the way to the team’s 11th straight victory.
Senior Ryan Perry (1-0) picked up the win after holding the Crusaders (2-6) to one hit over the final two innings. Wednesday’s win marks the second career victory for the right-handed reliever, who has now surrendered just one hit through his first seven innings pitched this season.
Duke freshmen Jake Lemmerman and Dennis O'Grady scored the tying and winning runs in the ninth. Lemmerman reached base in the ninth with an RBI single to extend his hitting streak to eight games, while O’Grady scored from second on Saade’s game-winner after coming in to pinch run for senior Jonathan Nicolla. Nicolla had a crucial pinch-hit single in the inning to send sophomore Jeremy Gould to third, setting up Lemmerman to drive in the first run of the inning.
Valparaiso reliever Jarad Miller (1-1) took the loss after surrendering the three runs. Crusaders starter Bryce Shafer held Duke in check for the first seven innings, scattering three hits and two runs without issuing a walk.
Duke scored its five runs with just eight base runners, as sophomore Alex Hassan contributed a pair of RBI in a 1-for-3 outing, while Lemmerman and Saade accounted for the other two RBI. Hassan extended his team-high hitting streak to 11 straight games. Third baseman Ryan McCurdy also contributed a run in the sixth inning after being hit by a pitch for the first of two times in the game.
Michael Ness also contributed 2.2 innings of relief after coming in to take over for starter Christopher Manno. In his fourth career start, Manno went 4.1 innings, allowing four runs on three hits. The sophomore southpaw struck out five hitters, however, and has now racked up 15 strikeouts over his first 10.1 innings pitched this season after a 10-strikeout start last week.
Manno picked up right where he left off after his start last Wednesday, retiring three straight with two strikeouts in the first inning. The 6-1 southpaw needed just eight pitches, all strikes, to retire the side.
For the eighth time this season, Duke scored first after going ahead 1-0 in the first on a sac fly by Hassan. Hassan’s drive to right field was just deep enough to score Saade, after the Blue Devil second baseman led off the inning with his seventh double of the season.
Manno continued to cruise through the third, despite allowing his first walk of the season. After going through 29 batters without surrendering a base on balls, Manno missed on a 3-0 fastball to send Justin Frane to first base. The free pass was neutralized on the next play though, when Lemmerman fielded a ground ball at shortstop and stepped on second base to start Duke’s seventh double play of the season.
After going hitless through the first three innings, the Crusaders put together a two-out rally in the top of the fourth to knot the score at 1-1. After Damon McCormick and Andrew Quinnette both drew walks, McCormick stole third with two outs to put runners at the corners for third baseman Josh Wallace. Wallace came through with a base hit to left field to send in McCormick before Manno struck out Jeff Greco to end the inning.
Meanwhile, Shafer settled down and quietly retired nine straight for
Perry took the mound for Duke to start the eighth and continued his hitless streak by retiring the side in order. Perry struck out his first hitter for his fifth strikeout of the season before inducing a groundout to the right side and a popup in foul territory that was snagged near the Valparaiso dugout by a sliding Nate Freiman.
Valparaiso also changed pitchers in the bottom half of the eighth, opting for side-arming right hander Jarad Miller, who put a pair of runners on base with one out but escaped the jam with the 4-2 lead intact. McCurdy stepped up to the plate to start the inning and took Miller’s second offering off his arm for his second free pass to first. The Crusaders caught a break on the next at bat when Saade’s popup to shallow right field jumped out of Rodeghero’s glove, but was recovered in enough time to force McCurdy out at second base. Williams followed by taking another inside pitch to put two runners on with one out, but Miller would strand both runners with a strikeout and a fielder’s choice ground ball.
Valparaiso catcher Matt Lenski finally broke Perry’s hitless streak in the top of the ninth with a leadoff double down the right field line. Lenski reached third on a sacrifice bunt before the end of the inning, but would advance no further as Perry induced a popup and a groundout to end the inning.
With Duke’s 10-game winning streak within three outs of ending, Miller forced Kyle Kreick to hit a ground ball back to the mound, which he fielded and tossed to first for the first out of the inning. Now just two outs away from their first loss of the season, Gould came through for the Blue Devils with a single to right center field. Nicolla then came to the plate in his second pinch-hit appearance of the season and sent the first pitch he saw screaming down the right field line for a single. The base hit moved Gould to third to put runners at the corners before O’Grady took over base running duties for Nicolla. Lemmerman then followed suit with a 2-2 base hit to center field to score Gould, while O’Grady advanced to second. McCurdy moved both runners into scoring position with a groundout to the right side, though the out was the second of the inning. Now with just one out at their disposal and trailing 4-3, Saade stepped to the plate with O’Grady and Lemmerman on second and third. After fouling the first pitch to the backstop, Saade ripped Miller’s next offering into left field to send both runners across the plate for Duke’s 11th consecutive victory.
The win was the second ninth-inning comeback of the season for the Blue Devils, who are now on the third-longest winning streak in the program’s last 25 years. At 11-0, Duke is also off to the second-best start in school history while quickly approaching the 15-0 mark set by the 1998 Blue Devils.
Duke will have the opportunity to inch closer to the mark this weekend, as the Blue Devils open ACC play against No. 5 North Carolina with a three-game home series at Jack Coombs Field. The cross-town rivals will open with a 3 p.m. meeting on Friday, March 7 and follow with a 2 p.m. contest on Saturday before concluding with a 1 p.m. game on Sunday. Admission to the game is free.