DURHAM, N.C. – Pittsburgh right-hander Josh Falk stymied the Blue Devils for eight innings to help the Panthers claim a 6-2 victory over Duke in Sunday afternoon’s series finale at the Durham Bulls Athletic Park.
Duke (16-15, 5-7 ACC) entered the contest averaging close to eight runs a game in ACC play, but the Blue Devils were unable to solve Falk (3-2) Sunday. Falk limited the Blue Devils to one run on two hits over eight complete innings. The Panther right-hander struck out eight and faced the minimum in five of his eight frames.
“You have to tip your hat,” said head coach Chris Pollard. “The reality is we got outpitched today by a guy who threw the ball really well. [Falk] threw his breaking ball for a strike a high percentage of the time. He was able to throw it to two locations: one for a called strike and one for a pitch that was really tough to lay off. He produced a lot of swings and misses with that one.”
Pitt (13-12, 6-6 ACC) received a three-run homer from Jacob Wright to grab the lead in the fifth and doubled the margin in the eighth. The Blue Devils scored lone runs in both the eighth and ninth, but it was too little too late for Duke.
Blue Devil starter Ryan Day (2-2) suffered the loss despite pitching 4.1 solid innings. Working on a pitch count, Day struck out four and scattered four hits before exiting the game with one out and two runners on in the fifth. Wright then lifted reliever Bill Chillari’s 3-2 pitch over the right field wall to break a scoreless tie, 3-0.
“Ryan threw great,” Pollard added. “Both starters pitched well and matched each other pitch for pitch. Obviously you don’t like to take [Day] out right there when he’s throwing the ball as well as he is. He doesn’t want to come out in that situation either, but he’s at his pitch count. We’ll take the matchup we got. Wright just put a good swing a 3-2 pitch.”
Senior Karl Blum worked 1.2 scoreless innings to keep the margin manageable. Junior Luke Whitten added a shutout seventh, but Pitt was able to add to its advantage in the eighth. The first three Panthers reached via two walks and a single before one run scored on a 6-4-3 double play. Catcher Manny Pazos added an RBI double and right fielder Nico Popa notched a RBI single, resulting in a 6-0 Panther lead.
With Falk out of the game, right fielder Griffin Conine drilled the Blue Monster with a leadoff double to start the ninth. Left fielder Michael Smiciklas extended his hit streak to 13 games with a RBI single, cutting the advantage, 6-2. Duke would come no closer as Pitt’s bullpen was able to buckle down and preserve the win.
“I thought we competed fine,” Pollard said. “We gave them some free offense in the eighth which was the big difference in the ballgame. If you keep the scoreboard clean there in the eighth, we’re eventually going to scratch a few across and get in the bullpen. Then all of a sudden that ninth inning feels totally different. We continued to compete in the ninth. We had good at bats and strung a few together. That’s all you can ask your club.”
Duke is set to play the Durham Bulls in the ‘Battle of Bull City’ at 6:06 p.m., Tuesday, April 4 at the DBAP. The Blue Devils resume their regular season schedule Saturday-Monday, traveling to Coral, Gables, Fla., for a three-game series against Miami.