CHAPEL HILL, N.C. – The Duke baseball team fell, 8-7, to ninth-ranked North Carolina in a hard-fought contest Saturday afternoon at Boshamer Stadium. With the loss, the Blue Devils move to 14-13 on the season, and 3-8 in Atlantic Coast Conference play.
“I’m proud of our club,” said head coach Chris Pollard. “I’m proud of the way we battled back into it. I thought we competed as good in the seventh inning as any Duke team that I’ve been around. Again when you’re this close and the margin of error is this small, it typically comes down to a play or a pitch. Credit to our guys battling their way back into it and giving ourselves a chance.”
After falling behind to a 5-1 deficit, the Blue Devils battled back to put up a six spot in the seventh inning to move ahead. Duke carried a 7-5 lead into the bottom of the seventh, but North Carolina would score three runs across the seventh and eighth innings to take the advantage and seal the series-clinching victory.
North Carolina struck first in game two of the series, plating a pair of runs in the second to gain the early advantage. The Tar Heels used a leadoff singled followed by a stolen base to place a runner in scoring position. After back-to-back walks loaded the bases, a fielder’s choice paired with an errant throw allowed the game’s first run to cross. A sacrifice fly in the next at-bat scored the inning’s second run, giving UNC a 2-0 lead after two innings of play.
The Blue Devils moved into the scoring column in the fourth, adding a single tally to set the score at 2-1. After senior Kennie Taylor reached on an error to lead off the inning, junior Erikson Nichols lined a double down the left field line to place runners on second and third. One out later, Taylor came across to score on a RBI groundout from Rudy Maxwell to make it a one-run contest.
The Tar Heels scored three runs across the fifth and sixth innings, starting with leadoff home run in the fifth to score the lone run in the frame. With one down in the sixth, a single followed by a pinch-hit home run plated two runs for North Carolina to widen the margin to 5-1.
Duke answered back in the very next frame, exploding for a six-run, five-hit inning to take its first lead of the weekend. The scoring sequence began with a one-out walk from freshman Ethan Murray. One batter later, graduate student Kyle Gallagher sent a two-run shot to left, marking his third home run of the season.
The inning continued with a walk to sophomore Chris Crabtree before North Carolina made a call to its bullpen. Taylor greeted the new arm with a single to left field, followed by a RBI double from Nichols to score two and even the contest at five apiece. In the very next at-bat, junior Matt Mervis delivered a single to center, forcing the Tar Heels to make their second call to the bullpen. After a wild pitch allowed the go-ahead run to cross, junior Chase Cheek reached on an infield single to plate Mervis and cap the inning’s scoring with the Blue Devils ahead 7-5.
North Carolina responded with a pair of runs in the home half in the seventh to knot the contest at seven apiece. The Tar Heels used a leadoff single followed by a walk to place runners on first and second. An errant throw on a sacrifice attempt allowed escaped to left field, allowing one run to cross for UNC. A double in the next at-bat scored the inning’s second run and even the score at 7-7 after seven innings.
The Tar Heels moved ahead scoring one run in the eighth to break the tie. With one down, a solo home run from Michael Busch plated the go-ahead run to set the score at 8-7 in UNC’s favor, the eventual final.
The Blue Devils went down in order in the ninth, as a strikeout swinging went as the final out to close the game.
The duo of Nichols and Gallagher each contributed multi-hit efforts on the day to pace the offensive effort. Nichols finished 3-for-5 with two doubles, two RBI and one run scored, while Gallagher went 2-for-4 with a home run, two RBI, and one run scored. Taylor added a team-high two runs scored as part of a 1-for-4 effort that included one walk.
Duke and North Carolina return to the diamond tomorrow afternoon for the series finale, which is set for a 1 p.m. first pitch at Boshamer Stadium. The Blue Devils will look to junior left-hander Bill Chillari, while the Tar Heels will counter with junior righty Gianluca Dalatri.
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