PITTSBURGH – Pitt scored five runs over the first four innings to take an early lead before Duke battled back for the 6-5 victory in the series finale Sunday afternoon at Charles L. Cost Field.
Griffin Conine’s sixth-inning solo homer tied the score before Max Miller’s RBI fielder’s choice plated the go-ahead run in the ninth. Duke (20-5, 6-3 ACC) received 5.2 innings of scoreless relief from the trio of Matt Dockman, Ethan DeCaster and Jack Labosky to come away with its third consecutive ACC series win.
“It was a very gritty, gutty win,” said head coach Chris Pollard. You’re in a rubber match on the road. You get down, twice. That’s hard. We showed tremendous toughness in the face of adversity all weekend. Playing in the conditions. Falling behind a couple times. Having answers everytime we did. We still got some things we can improve on from an execution standpoint, but the toughness that this team displays right now will carry you a long ways.”
Conine finished the day a triple short of the cycle, adding an RBI double in the second and a single in the eighth. Down 5-4, Conine sent the first pitch of the sixth bouncing off the parking deck beyond right field to knot the score at five-all. The solo shot was Conine’s fifth of the season.
“Griffin hit three balls as hard as you can hit three baseballs,” Pollard said. “That’s great to see. I’m excited for him.”
Conine was not the only Blue Devil to go deep. Freshman first baseman Joey Loperfido belted a longball for the second time in as many days. His two-run homer in the third put Duke ahead 4-3 before Pitt regained the lead.
Similar to Saturday’s contest, the early innings Sunday featured back-and-forth tallies between the two squads. Duke led 2-0 before Pitt scored three unearned runs in the second. Loperfido’s homer again put Duke on top prior to ¬David Yanni’s two-run, fourth-inning double.
After Yanni’s double in the fourth, only two Panthers reached base the rest of the way as DeCaster retired the first nine batters he faced. Pitt notched two eighth-inning singles but DeCaster recorded his fifth strikeout to end the inning with runners at the corners.
DeCaster’s performance allowed Duke to enter the ninth tied 5-5. Labosky drew a leadoff walk, his third free pass of the day, before a fielder’s choice, Kennie Taylor single and wild pitch put runners at second and third. Miller worked a full count, fouling off pitch after pitch, before sending a grounder to the Pitt shortstop. Loperfido broke on the play and avoided the tag at the plate to score the go-ahead run.
“That at bat by Max Miller in the ninth just typifies what this whole team is about,” Pollard added. “That at bat says a lot about why he’s our captain. He’s just a very tough person who loves to compete. What a great moment just to watch him there. That’s a guy just laying it all on the line for our program. Just really proud of him.”
Labosky then pitched a 1-2-3 bottom of the ninth for his fourth save of the season.
“Everything was an inning early because Ethan [DeCaster] was fresh,” Pollard said. “Did not anticipate he would go four innings, but he was so efficient that we were able to send him back out for the fourth which meant Jack [Lasboky] only had to go one. Between the two of those guys, it was five innings, two hits, no walks. Just a really complete performance.”
Duke steps out of conference play to take on Presbyterian at 6 p.m., Tuesday, March 27 at the Durham Bulls Athletic Park. The Blue Devils then host Notre Dame this coming weekend at the DBAP.