DURHAM, N.C. – Duke trailed North Carolina Central by two early before a breakout sixth inning sent the Blue Devils to a 8-4 victory over the Eagles Wednesday evening at the Durham Bulls Athletic Park.
Duke (20-19) used 10 pitchers in the contest. After NCCU (16-23) grabbed the early lead, veterans Karl Blum, Hunter Davis, Kevin Lewallyn, Thomas Crispi and James Ziemba threw five straight scoreless innings to give the offense opportunity to rally. In his second Duke appearance, Crispi (1-0) worked a 1-2-3 sixth to earn the win.
“All in all, we threw the ball really well,” said head coach Chris Pollard. “We had one walk. We limited them to singles. We didn’t give up extra base hits. For the most part, it was a really well pitched ballgame. We had Blum, Davis, Crispi, Lewallyn and Ziemba came in there when we were down 2-0 and really pitched well. Held the game in check and allowed our offense to get going.”
Sophomore Jimmy Herron went 3-for-5 with two RBI and a run to pace the Blue Devil bats. Junior Jack Labosky was 2-for-4 with a double, while sophomore Kennie Taylor knocked a pair of doubles. Sophomore Griffin Conine reached base in three of his five plate appearances, adding two RBI and two walks.
Duke took advantage of free offense from the NCCU pitchers, capitalizing on eight walks. In turn, the Blue Devils arms issued just one base on balls to Eagle hitters for the evening.
The Eagles plated single runs in each of the first two innings for the early 2-0 lead. A leadoff error in the first ultimately allowed the game’s initial run to cross home two batters later on a sacrifice fly, while back-to-back singles and a wild pitch accounted for NCCU’s second tally.
Duke manufactured a fifth-inning run to trim the margin, 2-1. Mervis led off with a walk, stole second, advanced on a fly ball and scored on a wild pitch. Duke put two more men aboard in the inning before starter Christian Gonnelli worked out of the jam.
Gonnelli’s outing ended at the conclusion of the fifth. The NCCU right-hander covered five complete, allowing one run on two hits while issuing four walks and striking out a pair.
Duke pounced on the NCCU bullpen following Gonnelli’s departure to the tune of five runs on five hits and a pair of walks in the sixth. Two walks sandwiched a Taylor double before Erikson Nichols drew the bases loaded walk to tie the game, 2-2. Herron, Zack Kone and Conine sent three consecutive singles through the left side to add four runs to Duke’s total.
“I liked the fact that our guys continued to stay in the moment,” Pollard said. “There was no press. That allowed us to have the big inning later.”
Nichols’ seventh-inning RBI double extended the advantage, 7-2. The Eagles used a Duke miscue to get two back to start the eighth, but Taylor’s RBI double in the bottom half established the four-run margin.
Labosky then worked a perfect ninth to preserve Duke’s 20th win of the season.
Next up, Duke travels to No. 2 Louisville for a three-game series Friday-Sunday on ACC Network Extra.