DURHAM, N.C. – Dominant pitching and two first-inning runs carried the Duke baseball team to a 7-0 victory against Lehigh in Friday’s season opener at the Durham Bulls Athletic Park. Four Blue Devil pitchers combined for the shutout, limiting the Mountain Hawks to just one hit and striking out 18.
The blanking was the first for Duke on opening day since 1992 and snapped a three-year opening day losing streak. Junior Graeme Stinson went the first three innings for the Blue Devils, yielding one hit and striking out six. Senior Hunter Davis covered the next three frames and fanned four, allowing only one baserunner with a hit by pitch. Junior Bill Chillari shut down the next the next two innings with six consecutive whiffs. Sophomore Thomas Girard came in for the ninth and fanned the first two before a walk broke a string of 16 consecutive batters retired. A fly out ended the contest.
“I thought we were really aggressive attacking the strikezone on the mound, which was something we challenged our guys to do,” head coach Chris Pollard said. “I thought we competed really well against a very good combination of arms early in the game. (Levi) Stoudt is going to be a high draft pick, and I thought we really came out competing well, and strung quality at-bats in the first to push a couple of runs across.”
Duke senior Kennie Taylor and sophomore Michael Rothenberg drove in a run apiece in the opening frame while junior Erikson Nichols, making his first start since 2017, paced the offense with a personal-best three hits and two runs batted in. Taylor finished the evening with two RBI and a run scored with sophomore Joey Loperfido scoring a team-high two runs.
The Blue Devils loaded the bases in the bottom of the first and cashed in with Taylor’s double to left center that drove in Loperfido, who had walked to start the contest. Rothenberg followed four batters later with a sacrifice fly to right field that Lehigh’s Quinn McKenna dove and caught, preventing further damage.
Duke stranded five combined in the fourth and fifth innings, but junior Chase Cheek and Nichols drove in one in each frame to give the Blue Devils a four-run cushion. Nichols delivered again in the seventh with a two-out single up the middle that plated sophomore Chris Crabtree.
The bottom of the eighth provided Duke’s final two runs as Taylor brought home freshman Ethan Murray with a fielder’s choice and a Crabtree double drove in Loperfido.
Lehigh starting pitcher Levi Stoudt took the loss, lasting three-and-a-third innings and giving up three runs, one earned, on three hits and six strikeouts. He also walked two. Ethan Frohman, Sam Wurth and Matt Stamford completed the pitching contingent for the Mountain Hawks.
Tony Gallo picked Lehigh’s hit with a two-out single to right field in the first.
The Blue Devils resume the series at 1 p.m. Saturday with game two. Sophomore Bryce Jarvis will take the mound for Duke with Jason Reynolds toing the rubber for Lehigh.