CHAPEL HILL, N.C. – Duke's comeback bid fell short in Saturday's regular season finale against No. 3 North Carolina. After trailing by six early, the Blue Devils pulled within two twice before ultimately falling, 9-7, to the Tar Heels Saturday afternoon at Boshamer Stadium.
No. 3 North Carolina (44-11, 23-7 ACC) scored at least one run in each of the first five frames to establish a commanding 7-1 lead heading to the sixth. Duke (28-27, 12-18 ACC) continued to compete, scoring three to start the sixth and one in the seventh, but could not completely erase the deficit in the end. UNC plated two insurance runs in the eighth that proved to be the difference as Duke scored two in the ninth.
“We were down 7-1 and it looked like the game had a chance to get away from us,” said head coach Chris Pollard. “We did a great job offensively to battle our way back in to it. We had good fight again in the ninth. We made some mistakes on the bases and that hurt us. We made a few mistakes on defense both on the bump and in the field. North Carolina took advantage of those and ultimately that was the difference in the ballgame.”
Duke churned out 16 hits in the game, led by three-hit performances from both sophomore Kennie Taylor and sophomore Chris Proctor. Junior Jack Labosky was 2-for-5 with a home run, a double, three RBI and two runs, while sophomore Jimmy Herron posted a 2-for-5 outing with two runs.
In a battle of freshmen starting pitchers, North Carolina's Gianluca Dalatri (6-3) came away with the win. Dalatri allowed four runs on seven hits over five innings. Duke's Adam Laskey (4-4) suffered the loss after permitting four runs (three earned) on five hits over two innings.
Opposite of the series' first two games, North Carolina struck first in Saturday's finale. A Brandon Riley two-out, two-run triple inside the right field line scored Logan Warmoth and Kyle Datres, who singled and walked, respectively.
UNC extended its advantage with at least one run in the next four innings.
Labosky got Duke on the board, driving the first pitch of the fourth out of the yard for his sixth home run of the season.
Down 7-1, Duke solved Dalatri in the sixth. The first four Blue Devils reached on a Kone double, Griffin Conine walk, Laboksy double and Taylor base hit. The Labosky and Taylor knocks both drove in runs and Duke plated a third tally on a double play.
The Blue Devils continued to chip away at the lead in the seventh. Conine sent an RBI single up the middle to score Herron and trim the margin, 7-5.
Four North Carolina singles led to two eighth-inning insurance runs. Proctor, Herron and Kone all singled to start the ninth as Duke scored two in the frame before the Tar Heels escaped the jam.
“What our guys should realize is that we can play with anybody in the country,” Pollard added. “We've beaten two surefire national seeds on the road. That should be a tremendous acknowledgement to our guys that we can beat anybody on any day."
Duke enters the 2017 ACC Tournament, which runs Tuesday-Sunday in Louisville, Ky., as the No. 9 seed. The ACC will release the complete tournament seedings Saturday after the conclusion of Louisville and Florida State. The tournament schedule is set for a Sunday morning release.