After graduate student Ethan DeCaster got Duke (1-1) out of a jam with the score tied in the seventh, Taylor’s second double plated the go ahead run in the eighth. With two aboard and two outs, a Vanderbilt (1-1) grounder ricocheted around the Duke infield before second baseman Max Miller gunned down the Commodores’ Pat DeMarco at the plate to end the game.
“We’ve got a veteran group of guys and you saw a veteran make a play for us to end the ballgame,” said head coach Chris Pollard. “A young team, if that happens, panics. We didn’t panic. We didn’t play well yesterday, but I really liked the way we responded.”
DeCaster (1-0) was excellent in his Duke debut, pitching the final 2.1 innings for the win. The graduate student transfer entered the game in the seventh and fanned the first four batters he faced.
DeCaster’s performance followed a standout start for senior Ryan Day. The right-hander tossed the eighth quality start of career, pitching six complete while allowing two runs, one earned. He scattered five hits, did not walk a batter and tied his career high with six strikeouts.
“It was a terrific start,” Pollard said. “I really liked the way he interchanged his cut fastball and his slider. The fastball had sink on it and he was very aggressive pitching in. That’s something we didn’t do well yesterday. Zero walks, six strikeouts in six innings. That’s a really good start.”
Duke’s 1-2-3 hitters – Jimmy Herron, Conine and Taylor – went a combined 6-for-13 with three RBI and four runs. Herron singled twice and scored a run while Taylor notched two doubles, a run and an RBI. Conine belted the first Duke home run of the season, finishing the night 2-for-4 with two runs and two RBI.
A squibber down the first base line plated the afternoon’s opening run in the bottom of the third. Vanderbilt’s Stephen Scott legged out a hustle double, reached third on a wild pitch then scored on Alonzo Jones’ spinning grounder the Duke defense could not corral.
Duke’s answer was immediate as the first three batters of the fourth registered hits. Conine shot a single into center and Taylor followed with a double down the line. Jack Labosky then delivered a two-run single up the middle on a 3-2 pitch to give Duke the lead, 2-1.
Vanderbilt tied the game at 2-2 on DeMarco’s RBI single in the fifth before Conine’s homer, a two-run blast the opposite way, gave Duke a 4-2 margin.
Vanderbilt struck for two immediately following Day’s departure. Scott drilled a two-out solo homer and back-to-back base hits squared the score, 4-4, before DeCaster came in to squelch the rally.
Freshman Joey Loperfido led off the eighth with the first hit of his career and Herron beat out an infield single to put two runners on. With one out, Taylor sent a double to left field, giving Duke the 5-4 advantage.
“We made a decision to bat Griffin in the two-hole to force teams to have to pitch to Jimmy and Griffin,” Pollard added. “Kennie was our No. 2 OPS guy last year. You have to pitch to those two guys or else you’re going to have Kennie Taylor coming to the plate with runners on base. I thought it was a great job by Kennie there in the eighth inning.”
Duke and Vanderbilt resume the three-game series at 1 p.m. (CST) on SEC Network +, available on ESPN3 or the WatchESPN app. Senior Mitch Stallings takes the mound opposite junior Chandler Day.