DURHAM, N.C. – Jimmy Herron’s two-run homer in the fifth broke a 3-3 tie as Duke downed Virginia 6-3 in the two teams’ ACC opener Friday evening at the Durham Bulls Athletic Park. Ethan DeCaster pitched 3.1 scoreless innings in relief to preserve the lead, helping the Blue Devils to their 10th straight win.
Duke (11-2, 1-0 ACC) jumped out to an early lead before Virginia (9-5, 0-1 ACC) knotted the score with a three-run third. After Kennie Taylor’s fifth-inning leadoff single, Herron ambushed a hanging first-pitch curveball, sending his first home run of the season over the Blue Monster.
DeCaster took over with two outs in the sixth and retired the first seven batters he faced before two UVA hitters reached in the ninth. DeCaster proceeded to strike out Alex Tappen for the first out of the inning before inducing a pop up to first and grounder to short to end the game. In six appearances this season, DeCaster has yet to allow a run, picking up his third save tonight.
“[DeCaster] really threw the ball well,” said head coach Chris Pollard. “After he got off the field there in the eighth … [DeCaster] walked past [pitching coach Dusty Blake] and said ‘It’s my inning, I want it.’ Felt like he’d earned that. Plus it gives us a chance to extend Jack [Labosky] tomorrow. It’s a big inning for us, that he was able to go out and finish the ballgame.”
DeCaster’s effort on the mound completed a solid pitching performance by the Blue Devils. Starter Adam Laskey (3-1) earned the win after throwing 5.2 innings, allowing three runs on three hits with four strikeouts and five walks. Laskey and DeCaster combined to limit Virginia to four hits on the night, all singles.
In the bottom of the first, Griffin Conine lasered a 1-2 pitched into the right field stands for a solo home run, his third longball of the year and one of his two hits in the game.
Conine was one of four Blue Devils to record multiple hits. Joey Loperfido continued his torrid start, roping a double and two singles to raise his team-leading batting average to .425. Zack Kone singled twice and scored Duke’s run in the eighth, while Taylor had a two-out RBI double in the second and a leadoff fifth-inning base hit.
“Kennie [Taylor] had really great at bats,” Pollard said. “Great two-out double to score the run. Comes up and has another good at bat, sits back on a slider.
The Cavaliers scored all three of their runs in the third, aided by three walks and an error. Tappen’s leadoff base knock started the inning before three straight walks plated UVA’s first run. A fielding error and RBI groundout allowed two more runs home before a fly ball to center ended the frame.
Following the third, Duke permitted Virginia baserunners to reach scoring position just twice the rest of the way. After Herron’s homer broke the tie, Duke then tacked on an eighth-inning insurance run via a Kone leadoff base hit followed by a wild pitch, throwing error and passed ball.
“I thought it started earlier in the game when Loperfido extends the single into a double,” Pollard added. “By showing teams that we’re always going to have our foot on the gas pedal, what that does is it forces teams to have to hurry a little bit. Because of the hurry play, [Kone] not only got second, he also got third. Then he makes a really aggressive read on that ball in the eighth. That was a big run.”
The Blue Devils and the Cavaliers resume the series with a Saturday doubleheader at the DBAP. The first pitch of game one is set for 1 p.m. ACC Network Extra will broadcast both contests via WatchESPN.com and the ESPN app.