BRADENTON, Fla. – A five-run explosion in the seventh inning, highlighted by a grand slam from senior co-captain Kennie Taylor, helped the Duke baseball team to a 9-2 victory over Penn State Sunday afternoon at IMG Academy. With the win, the Blue Devils clinch the series and improve to 9-2 on the season.
“One thing this team has showed, is a resiliency to not panic when down,” said head coach Chris Pollard. “We never pressed or we never hit the panic button. We did a good job of grinding out some at-bats. Michael Rothenberg had two at-bats, where he really grinded out and spoiled a lot of pitches. I told our team in the postgame meeting that we probably got (Eric) Mock out of the game a full inning earlier because of the two at-bats by Michael Rothenberg, and that allowed us to get in the bullpen in the seventh. Then we had a really good offensive approach from there.
Making his third start of the season, freshman Cooper Stinson provided the Blue Devils with a solid outing. After surrendering a leadoff home run, the right-hander battled back to hold the Nittany Lions scoreless over the next 5.0 innings, allowing only three hits and four walks while recording six strikeouts. The trio of graduate student Ben Gross, junior Matt Dockman and sophomore Thomas Girard combined to go the final four frames to seal the series-clinching victory.
Gross (2-0) and Dockman each tossed 1.0 inning apiece, with Gross earning his second win of the season. The graduate transfer allowed one earned run on one hit, while collecting three strikeouts in his effort. Girard worked the final 2.0 frames of play, surrendering two hits and recording a pair of strikeouts.
For the second consecutive contest, Penn State struck first in Sunday’s series finale, plating one run in the bottom of the first. A home run from the PSU leadoff man brought across the game’s first run, giving the Nittany Lions a 1-0 lead after an inning of play.
After four scoreless frames, Penn State added a single tally in the sixth to extend its lead. The Nittany Lions used a leadoff walk followed by a RBI triple to plate a run and make it a 2-0 contest. Gross battled back to record three strikeouts, stranding the PSU runner at third to end the inning and keep the game at a two-run margin.
The Blue Devils responded in the very next frame, exploding for five runs in the top of the seventh to grab the advantage. The inning began with a leadoff double from graduate transfer Kyle Gallagher. One out later, sophomore Tyler Wardwell reached on a walk followed by a single from junior Chase Cheek to load the bases. After working a 1-1 count, Taylor delivered a grand slam with a ball to deep left, moving Duke ahead 5-2.
In the eighth, freshman Ethan Murray led things off with a walk before advancing into scoring position on a stolen base. One batter later, Cheek recorded his second hit of the day with a RBI double to right field to score one run. In the very next at-bat, Taylor drove the first pitch he saw to deep left field for a two-run shot, marking his second home run of the day.
The inning continued with a single up the middle from freshman Rudy Maxwell, before sophomore Chris Crabtree capped the inning’s scoring with a RBI triple to right center to extend the Duke advantage to 9-2, the eventual final.
Seven of nine Blue Devil starters recorded at least one hit in the contest, with the foursome of Cheek, Taylor, Crabtree and Gallagher contributing multi-hit efforts. Cheek finished with a team-high three hits, adding one RBI and a pair of runs scored. Taylor added a team-high 6 RBI, as part of his 2-for-6 effort with a pair of runs scored.
Duke returns to the diamond on Tuesday, welcoming Penn for a pair of midweek matchups. The Blue Devils and Quakers are set for single contests on Tuesday and Wednesday, with the first pitch of both games set for 4 p.m. at Durham Bulls Athletic Park.
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