BRADENTON, Fla. – The Duke baseball team fell, 8-7, to Penn State in a back-and-forth contest Saturday afternoon at IMG Academy. With the loss, the Nittany Lions tie the weekend series at one apiece, while the Blue Devils move to 8-2 on the season.
“I thought it was a really good ballgame,” said head coach Chris Pollard. “I thought both teams competed really well. Give credit to Penn State. They jumped out early, and we had an answer. They showed a lot of resolve to be able to battle back in the ballgame. It really came down to one guy who had just a tremendous day for them, and we didn’t have an answer on how to get him out. I thought we swung the bats well, and I thought we defended well.”
Duke and Penn State traded runs throughout the entire afternoon. The Nittany Lions got out to an early 3-0 lead, but the Blue Devils scored seven runs across the third, fourth and fifth innings to grab the advantage. Penn State added a pair of runs in both the sixth and seventh innings to regain the lead, which proved to be the difference for the Nittany Lions.
Penn State struck first in Saturday’s contest, scoring three runs in the first. The Nittany Lions used three consecutive two-out hits to plate a trio of runs, making it a 3-0 game after one inning of play.
The Blue Devils responded in the third, plating a pair of runs to trim the deficit and make it a one-run ballgame. After working a 2-1 count, graduate transfer Kyle Gallagher kicked off the inning with a solo shot to left field, marking his second home run of the season. In the very next at-bat, freshman Ethan Murray followed suit with a home run of his own, setting the tally at 3-2 in favor of Penn State.
The Nittany Lions answered back in the very next frame, adding a single tally to extend their lead. After reaching on a single to begin the inning, the PSU leadoff man advanced into scoring position on a passed ball. Two outs later, a single up the middle brought a run across to set the score at 4-2 after three innings.
Duke bounced back, scoring five runs across the fourth and fifth innings to take the advantage. In the fourth, the Blue Devils used three consecutive hits to plate a pair of runs to even the score. With one down, freshman Rudy Maxwell lined a single to left field, with sophomore Chris Crabtree following with a single of his own. With runners on the corners, junior Erikson Nichols ripped a RBI double to left center, scoring two runs to even the contest at four apiece.
The Blue Devil fifth began with a leadoff single from Murray, who later advanced to second on a failed pickoff attempt. One batter later, junior Chase Cheek ripped a RBI double down the right field line to score the inning’s first run, forcing Penn State to make a call to its bullpen. In the next at-bat, senior Kennie Taylor greeted the new arm with a RBI double to center to plate another run for the Blue Devils. Sophomore Michael Rothenberg delivered the inning’s third consecutive RBI double with a ball down the left field line, scoring the frame’s third and final run, pushing Duke’s advantage to 7-4.
Penn State responded with four runs across the sixth and seventh innings, scoring two runs in each frame to regain the lead. The PSU sixth with a leadoff homer from Kris Kremer, his second of the ballgame. The Nittany Lions used a double followed by a pair of walks to load the bases, before a fielder’s choice brought across the inning’s second run to make it a 7-6 contest.
In the seventh, the Penn State leadoff man reached on a single before Kremer recorded his third home run of the game with a two-run shot to right field to give the Nittany Lions the 8-7 advantage, the eventual final.
The Blue Devils did not go quietly, reaching the potential tying run in both the eighth and ninth innings. In the eighth, Maxwell reached on a double down the left field line before a strikeout and a pair of groundouts stranded the freshman on third to end the inning. Junior Matt Mervis reached on a one-out walk in the ninth inning, but a fielder’s choice and a strikeout would go as the final outs in the ballgame.
Eight of nine Duke batters collected at least one hit in the contest, while also registering at least one RBI or one run scored. Taylor, Maxwell and Murray led the charge, contributing multi-hit efforts with two hits apiece, while Murray added a pair of runs scored.
The two teams return to the diamond tomorrow for the deciding game three of the series. Duke will look to freshman right-hander Cooper Stinson, while Penn State will counter with a righty of its own in redshirt junior Erick Mock.
For more information on Duke baseball, follow the Blue Devils on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram by searching for “DukeBaseball”. You can also find all-access coverage of all Duke athletic programs on SnapChat by searching for “dukeathletics”.