DURHAM, N.C. – Tied 3-3 heading to the seventh, No. 13 Duke struck for four runs in the latter innings and received a shutout performance from the bullpen to top No. 4 North Carolina, 7-3, in the series opener Friday evening at the Durham Bulls Athletic Park.
After North Carolina (33-15, 18-7 ACC) tied the game with a three-run sixth, Duke (37-11, 16-8 ACC) plated a pair in both the seventh and eighth. Zack Kone drove a first-pitch offering down the left field line with the bases loaded in the seventh before Kennie Taylor ripped a two-run eighth-inning triple.
“It was a back-and-forth affair,” said head coach Chris Pollard. “We jumped out early. We had some two-out hits that were able to seize a lead. You knew [North Carolina was] going to make a run. They did in the sixth. We had some tough breaks but we stayed poised and kept competing. Just a very complete team win by our club.”
Ethan DeCaster (5-0) assumed the mound with the bases loaded in the sixth and pitched 1.2 scoreless innings to earn the win. The first two Tar Heel hitters reached in the seventh before DeCaster eluded damage with two backwards strikeouts sandwiching a fielder’s choice.
“Terrific job by Ethan DeCaster to get us off the field with no further damage,” Pollard added. “I thought the moment in the game was when [UNC] put runners at first and second with nobody out in the seventh. The job Ethan DeCaster did to compete his way through that and get off the field with a tie ballgame, that was the difference for me.”
Jack Labosky then extended his scoreless innings streak to 27.2, allowing just one baserunner in a six-out save, his ninth save of the season.
Griffin Conine began the scoring the in the second, sending a solo shot to right center, his team-leading 11th home run on the year. Eight of Conine’s 11 homers have come in ACC play.
Duke tacked on two more runs in an exciting fifth. Taylor singled with one-out and was twice called out in the inning, initially when stealing second and again at home, but both calls were overturned following replay. In the end, Taylor scored on a Jimmy Herron RBI single before Chris Proctor knocked an RBI base hit of his own.
Starter Mitch Stallings faced two over the minimum through five complete before encountering trouble in the fifth. Four straight Tar Heels reached with one out to score UNC’s first run. A sacrifice fly and a fielding error accounted for North Carolina’s next two tallies before DeCaster struck out Brandon Martorano to end the threat.
With one out in the seventh, Labosky, Herron and Proctor drew three consecutive walks against the UNC bullpen. Kone then laced the first pitch he saw from Tar Heel reliever Josh Hiatt to give Duke a two-run lead.
The Blue Devils added two insurance runs the following frame. A walk and hit batter put two aboard for Taylor, who roped a two-run, standup triple to the right center gap.
“We did a great job taking advantage of free offense in the seventh and again in the eighth,” Pollard said. “What a terrific at bat Kennie Taylor. Zack Kone with the big two-RBI single. Lot of different guys tonight. Chris Proctor swung the bat really well. Jimmy [Herron] had really good at bats.
UNC reliever Joey Lancellotti (3-4) took the loss after allowing two run on one hit and two walks in 1.1. innings.
Duke and North Carolina return to the DBAP at 1 p.m., Saturday, May 12 for the second game of the series on ACC Network Extra.