DURHAM, N.C. – The Duke baseball team snapped its four-game losing streak in resounding fashion Friday at Durham Bulls Athletic Park with three home runs and a 16-2 victory against Wake Forest in the series opener. The first career home run from junior Chase Cheek, sophomore Michael Rothenberg’s team-high fourth long ball of the campaign and the second career homer from freshman Ethan Murray backed a strong start from graduate student Ben Gross as the Blue Devils captured their first ACC Friday night victory of the season.
“I thought we were good in all three phases,” said head coach Chris Pollard. “We got a terrific start from Ben Gross. He didn’t know he was starting until yesterday. He took the ball like a veteran and went out there and competed. He did a great job of giving us shutdown innings after we got the offense going. Our offense was terrific with two outs two strikes. We competed great.
With Duke leading 2-1 in the bottom of the third, Cheek blasted a three-run homer to right center to extend the lead. Murray, Rothenberg and freshman Rudy Maxwell combined for seven hits, eight runs batted in and nine scored to help guide the Blue Devil offense, which produced 13 runs with two outs.
The Blue Devils improved their overall record to 13-9 and 3-4 in ACC play while Wake Forest dips to 13-10 and 3-4 in league competition.
On the mound, Gross (3-1) covered the first five frames in his second start for the Blue Devils, the first in ACC play. He allowed one run on one hit and one walk while fanning six to secure his team-leading third win of the season. Junior Adam Laskey made his first appearance of the season and threw one inning, yielding one walk and one hit and striking out one. Freshman Cooper Stinson came in for the final three frames, surrendering one unearned run on a hit, walk and five whiffs in earning his first save of the campaign.
Duke jumped out to a 1-0 lead in the first. With two outs, Maxwell drew a walk, moved to second on a single to left from junior Erikson Nichols and scored on a ground-run double to center from Rothenberg. Junior Matt Mervis was hit by a pitch to fill the bases, but a strikeout ended the threat.
In the top of the third, the Demon Deacons knotted the score at 1-1 with their first hit of the contest. Jake Mueller led off with a double down the right-field line and scored on a one-out sacrifice fly to center field.
The Blue Devils answered immediately with five runs in the bottom of the frame to regain the lead at 6-1. Maxwell tripled with one out and scored on a Nichols groundout to shortstop to make it a 2-1 Duke advantage. The Blue Devils produced five runs with two outs as Rothenberg started the rally with a walk. Mervis singled through the left side and both came home on Cheek’s long ball. Murray continued the scoring with a walk and scored on freshman RJ Schreck’s double off the wall in right field to cap the inning’s scoring.
Duke tacked on five more runs in the bottom of the fourth to extend the advantage to 11-1. With one out, Maxwell beat out an infield single to the shortstop. After a strikeout, Rothenberg homered down the right-field line for an 8-1 cushion. Mervis singled and Cheek walked to set up Murray’s three-run blast over the wall in left field.
In the bottom of the fifth, the Blue Devils pushed across four more for a 15-1 lead. Sophomore Chris Crabtree doubled to lead off the inning, advanced to third on a wild pitch and came home on a sacrifice fly from senior Kennie Taylor. Maxwell doubled, Nichols walked and Rothenberg singled up the middle to plate Maxwell for a 13-1 advantage. Mervis was hit by a pitch, loading the bases for Murray, who walked to force in Nichols. A passed ball allowed Rothenberg to score the final tally of the inning.
Crabtree motored around the bases in the bottom of the sixth for a 16-1 Duke lead. He walked to open the frame and, after two strikeouts, advanced to third on a Nichols single to right. Crabtree then came home on a passed ball before another whiff.
Wake Forest scratched across an unearned run in the top of the seventh to make it a 16-2 affair. With two outs, Mueller walked and went to third on a single to left center from Turconi. A throwing error allowed Mueller to score and put runners on first and second with two down, but a groundout closed the frame.
Wake Forest starter Colin Peluse (1-3) took the loss, throwing 3.2 frames and giving up nine runs on nine hits and four walks to go along with five strikeouts. Carter Bach recorded one out in surrendering two runs on one hit, one free pass and one whiff. Shane Muntz lasted one inning, yielding four runs, three earned, on three hits and a pair of walks. Tyler Witt went the last three innings with an unearned run, two hits and two walks while striking out four.
Duke goes for the series win Saturday at 1 p.m. inside Durham Bulls Athletic Park Saturday. Sophomore Bryce Jarvis (2-0) will be on the bump for the Blue Devils with Wake Forest countering with Jared Shuster (4-0).
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