PITTSBURGH – Duke took a big lead early en route to a 12-6 series-opening victory over Pitt Friday afternoon at the Panther’s Charles L. Cost Field. The Blue Devils led 5-0 after the first and 8-1 after the third, improving to 19-4 (5-2 ACC) on the year.
The Blue Devils’ 14 hits, including five doubles, resulted in Duke’s second highest run total of the season. Eight of Duke’s starting nine reached base at least twice in the contest, led by junior Jimmy Herron who reached safely in four of his five plate appearances.
Herron kick started the offense with a 10-pitch leadoff at bat. After falling behind 0-2, Herron fouled off four pitches to eventually draw a walk. Herron’s free pass was the first of four walks issued by the Pitt (11-8, 1-6 ACC) pitching staff in the first. The Panthers used three pitchers in the inning as Duke plated five on four walks, two hit batters and a Max Miller RBI single.
“[Herron’s first-inning at bat] was the best at bat of the year by our baseball program,” said head coach Chris Pollard. “It set a tone for the whole rest of the game. You like to say that one at bat or one play doesn’t make or break a ballgame. Well that one at bat made this game for our team. It set a tone on a difficult day to play. We capitalized on it. We had really good at bats behind it. We were able to put a crooked number on the board in the first. Then we kept our foot on the gas pedal the rest of the ballgame. That was the best our offense has been.”
Pitt starter Dan Hammer (2-2) did not record an out in the loss as all four Blue Devils he faced reached base and scored. In total, the Panthers used five pitchers in the contest.
Zack Kone’s leadoff double greeted the second. After Jack Labosky was hit by a pitch, Kennie Taylor roped a two-run double to plate Duke’s sixth and seventh runs. Chris Proctor added an RBI double in the third to help the Blue Devils to a commanding 8-1 advantage after three.
The score remained the same until Duke’s three-run eighth, featuring RBI hits from Kone, Griffin Conine and Taylor.
Kone finished the afternoon with three hits, three runs scored and three RBI hitting out of the three spot in the order. Taylor had two hits and drove in four RBI as well.
Starter Adam Laskey (5-1) allowed one unearned run on two hits to earn his fifth consecutive win. Frank Maldonado had both of Pitt’s two hits against Duke’s sophomore left-hander as Laskey went seven complete with eight strikeouts. Pitt’s run against Laskey came in the first after a walk and failed pickoff attempt allowed Alex Amos to score on Yanni’s RBI grounder to second.
“[Laskey] was staked that lead on a very difficult day to pitch and he went out and attacked the strike zone. There were several times in the ballgame where he fell behind and battled his way back into the count and made pitches when he needed to. I thought it was a very mature, very veteran type outing for Adam Laskey.”
Down 12-1 heading to the ninth, Pitt score five runs on four hits, including Nico Popa’s three-run homer, but the Duke lead was too great to completely overcome.
The Blue Devils and the Panthers resume the series at 3 p.m, Saturday, March 24 on ACC Network Extra. Duke’s Mitch Stallings takes the mound opposite Pitt’s Matt Pidich from Charles L. Cost Field.