DURHAM, N.C. – Another standout day on the mound from graduate student Ben Gross coupled with a two-out, two-run home run from sophomore Joey Loperfido pushed the Duke baseball team to a doubleheader sweep of Pittsburgh on Saturday at Durham Bulls Athletic Park.
Duke (16-15, 5-9 ACC) reeled off a 2-0 win in game one and capped the evening with a comeback 6-5 game two victory against Pittsburgh (8-21, 2-12 ACC) to snap a five-game conference losing streak. The Blue Devils turned in their third shutout of the year and blanked the Panthers for the first time this season in the opener. In game two, Duke trailed 5-3 after the sixth, but Loperfido’s long ball provided the game-winning hit in the bottom of the eighth. Of Duke’s eight runs in the doubleheader, seven were scored with two outs.
The Blue Devils will go for the series sweep Sunday inside Durham Bulls Athletic Park with a 1 p.m. first pitch. The contest will be broadcast live on ACC Network Extra, which can be accessed through WatchESPN.com or the ESPN app.
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Duke 2, Pittsburgh 0 (Game One)
In the bottom of the third, a two-out single up the middle from junior Matt Mervis dented the scoreboard for the first time, putting the Blue Devils ahead 1-0. Freshman Ethan Murray led off with a single to left and moved to second on a walk to sophomore Michael Rothenberg. Following a fielder’s choice and strikeout, Murray was on third with Loperfido on first. Mervis then shot a ball back through the box for the game’s first run before a fly out ended the threat.
In the top of the seventh, Pittsburgh mounted its first scoring threat. With one out, Ron Washington Jr. singled to center field and Kyle Hess walked. A fly out moved Washington Jr. to third, but a strikeout ended the threat.
The Panthers had another scoring chance in the top of the ninth, but were again held off the board. With one out, Washington Jr. and Hess drew consecutive free passes, but a strikeout and lineout sealed the victory.
Through the first six frames, Gross had just two innings facing more than three batters, seeing four in the first and sixth. Pittsburgh did not put more than one runner on base in an inning until the seventh. In the best outing of his career, Gross finished with seven innings pitched, two hits allowed and a personal-best 10 strikeouts mixed around four walks to improve to 4-2 this season. Sophomore Thomas Girard came in for the final two frames, earning his third save of the campaign. He allowed three walks and fanned three.
Pittsburgh’s Derek West (0-2) was the tough-luck loser, scatting eight hits and a walk to go along with eight whiffs during six innings of work. Brady Devereux and David Moore each tossed an inning and allowed one hit and struck out one.
Duke 6, Pittsburgh 5 (Game Two)
The bottom of the third ignited the Duke offense again in the second game of the day as a double off the wall in left from senior Kennie Taylor gave the Blue Devils a 1-0 advantage. With one out, Rothenberg reached on an error and Loperfido singled to move Rothenberg to second. Taylor drilled a ball off the wall to plate Rothenberg before a strikeout and fly out ended the threat.
Duke pushed the lead to 2-0 in the bottom of the fourth. After a leadoff strikeout, graduate student Kyle Gallagher doubled to left field. Following another whiff, Murray singled through the right side, bringing in Gallagher to give the Blue Devils the two-run cushion.
The Panthers mounted a rally in the top of the fifth and took their first lead of the day at 5-2. Sky Duff singled, Andres Antonini singled and Cole MacLaren walked to load the bases with no outs. A fielding error allowed Duff and Antonini to score and even the game at 2-2. After a foul out and fly out, Washington Jr. beat out an infield single to reload the bases with two down. Three consecutive bases-loaded walks, to Hess, Bryce O’Farrell and Duff, followed to force in three runs. A whiff ended the frame.
Duke answered immediately in the bottom of the fifth to cut the deficit to 5-3. Taylor led off with a double, moved to third on a sacrifice bunt and scored on junior Erikson Nichols’ sacrifice fly to right.
In the bottom of the seventh, Duke chipped off another run to trail just 5-4. The Blue Devils put their first two runners on with consecutive singles to left by Loperfido and Taylor. After a strikeout and fly out, Crabtree singled to left to deliver Loperfido. A lineout on a diving grab by O’Farrell at first kept the Panthers in front by one.
The Blue Devils tallied the winning runs in the bottom of the eighth as Cheek led off with a walk, moved to second on a sacrifice bunt and scored on Loperfido’s homer. Loperfido finished the game with a career-high-tying four hits, two runs batted in and two scored.
Pittsburgh got a leadoff double in the ninth from pinch hitter David Yanni. After a strikeout, a wild pitch advanced Yanni to third but the Blue Devils got a whiff and fly out to complete the win.
Junior Bill Chillari went four innings and yielded four runs, one earned, on five hits and two walks with three strikeouts. Senior Hunter Davis recorded two outs and gave up an unearned run and a trio of walks. Junior Eli Herrick registered four outs with three strikeouts. Sophomore Matt Dockman earned the win to improve to 2-1 after throwing two frames, allowing one hit and fanning a pair. Sophomore Bryce Jarvis entered for the ninth and earned his first save of the year after giving up one hit and fanning two.
Pittsburgh’s Billy Corcoran threw the first six innings, limiting Duke to three runs, two earned, on six hits, four walks and four strikeouts. Devereux recorded the first out of the seventh and gave up a run on a pair of singles and whiff. Chase Smith (1-3) took the loss after surrendering two runs on two hits, a walk, a strikeout and one hit by pitch in 1.2 frames.