DURHAM, N.C. – Down three runs in the bottom of the ninth, No. 19 Duke rallied for four runs on five hits to claim the series opener, 5-4, over Notre Dame Friday evening at the Durham Bulls Athletic Park. With two outs and the bases loaded, designated hitter Michael Smiciklas was hit by a pitch to plate the game-winning run.
Irish starter Scott Tully stymied the Blue Devils for eight innings, allowing Notre Dame (11-13, 4-6 ACC) to stake a 4-1 lead heading into the bottom of the ninth. Duke (22-5, 7-3 ACC) had just two singles against Tully prior to posting five hits versus the Irish bullpen in the ninth.
With Tully out of the game, Kennie Taylor and Jimmy Herron ignited the rally with back-to-back singles. Zack Kone ripped an RBI base hit up the middle to trim the margin, 4-2. Down to the final out, Jack Labosky laced an RBI back knock before Chris Proctor beat out an RBI infield single to tie the game. Max Miller’s walk loaded the bases for Smiciklas, who was hit by reliever Tommy Vail’s second pitch to complete the comeback and give Duke the walkoff victory.
“We had really good at bats against a really good arm,” said head coach Chris Pollard. “Credit Ken Taylor for getting us going. One of the things I liked about it, those first couple [at bats], we were behind in the count. Jimmy Herron’s behind in the count there and he gives us a great at bat. Zack [Kone] comes up behind those guys, ready first pitch. We had good at bats from that point forward. Chris Proctor does a great job getting down the line. Jack [Labosky] gets to first base. Job by Max Miller] and Mike Smiciklas … it’s fun to see our seniors go up there and have great at bats in big moments.”
Notre Dame’s Cole Kmet (0-3) suffered the loss, allowing four runs on five hits while recording two outs in the ninth. Duke’s Matt Mervis (3-0) pitched a perfect top of the ninth to record the victory.
Blue Devil starter Adam Laskey pitched well in the no decision. Laskey permitted four runs, three earned, on five hits over 6.1 innings, good for his fifth quality start of the season.
Both starting pitchers cruised through the first third of the ballgame. Each team had a lone baserunner over the initial three frames. Notre Dame started the scoring with two outs in the fourth, using a Nick Podkul walk and Matt Vierling RBI single to claim the 1-0 lead.
The Blue Devils tied the game in the sixth. Smiciklas’ walk followed Miller’s leadoff single to put the first two batters aboard. Taylor’s sacrifice bunt then allowed Herron to send a sacrifice fly to deep left field.
Notre Dame seemed to have the game in hand after a three-run seventh. Podkul and Vierling were once again the culprits as both notched extra base hits. A Duke error allowed the Irish’s third and final tally to cross home before a strikeout concluded the inning.
Freshman Matt Dockman recorded two outs with a runner on in the eighth before Mervis pitched a 1-2-3 ninth to keep the game within striking distance.
“That’s why every pitch matters,” Pollard added. “You’re down 4-1, but if you roll over and say, ‘Tully’s pitching a great game. We can’t figure him out. What’s the difference in 4-1 or 5-1?’ Then you’re not in a position to do that. [Notre Dame] had an opportunity to stretch that game out. The job by Matt Dockman to get us off the field and Matt Mervis comes in and gives us a clean inning. That’s what puts us in a position to do that.”
Duke and Notre Dame resume the series at 1 p.m., Saturday, March 30 on ACC Network Extra. The Blue Devils send LHP Mitch Stallings to the mound opposite Irish LHP Tommy Sheehan.