DURHAM, N.C. – The Duke baseball team used a two-run rally in the top of the ninth to push past NC Central, 7-5, Tuesday evening at Durham Athletic Park. The win marks four in a row for the Blue Devils, and improves the squad’s overall record to 18-15 on the campaign.
“I’m really proud of our club,” said head coach Chris Pollard. “Give credit to NC Central. I thought both teams played well. I thought they swung it well and I thought we had some really good at-bats. I thought we had some step-up pitching performances and I thought they had some step-up pitching performances. Both teams made some terrific plays defensively and both center fielders made some unbelievable plays. It was just a really good baseball game.”
The two teams traded runs all evening in a contest that was tied for four of the nine innings. NC Central gained the early advantage with trio of runs in the first before Duke answered with three runs in the second to even the score at three apiece. The Blue Devils added two runs across the fourth and the fifth, while the Eagles plated two in the sixth to tie the game at five all. The two teams went scoreless across the next two innings before Duke scratched across two runs in the ninth to break the tie and secure the 7-5 victory.
The Eagles used four hits in the first to score three runs and grab the early lead. The inning began with a leadoff single before the NCCU leadoff man advanced into scoring position on a wild pitch. After a one-out single placed runners on first and third, an infield single brought across the game’s first run to place the Eagles in the scoring column.
The frame continued with a walk to load the bases before a fielder’s choice allowed a second run to cross. NC Central collected its fourth hit of the inning with a RBI single through the left side to bring across the third run of the inning and make it a 3-0 contest after one frame of play.
The Blue Devils responded in the very next half, using a two-out rally to scratch across three runs and set the tally at 3-3. The scoring sequence began with back-to-back walks to sophomore Michael Rothenberg and freshman Ethan Murray. In the next at-bat, sophomore Chris Crabtree sent a ball over the center fielder’s head, wheeling around the bases to record an inside-the-park home run and even the contest at three apiece.
Duke added single tallies in both the third and the fourth to gain the advantage. Senior Kennie Taylor led off the third with a double down the left field line, marking his team-leading 16th double of the season. Two outs later, junior Chase Cheek sent a double to right center to plate Taylor and put the Blue Devils ahead 4-3.
With two down in the fourth, Crabtree collected his second hit of the night with a double to center field. Sophomore Joey Loperfido followed with a walk before Taylor reached on an infield single to load the bases. With nowhere to put them, junior Matt Mervis worked a five-pitch walk to bring a run across and make it a 5-3 ballgame.
NC Central plated a pair of runs in the sixth to knot the score up at five apiece. A leadoff double followed by a single allowed one run to score for the Eagles. After a one-out walk placed runners on first and second, an errant throw allowed a second run to cross for NCCU to tie the contest at 6-6 after six innings of action.
After two scoreless frames, Duke broke through in the top of the ninth using a two-out rally to take the advantage. Mervis began the scoring sequence, drawing his second walk of the contest to give the Blue Devils a baserunner. In the next at-bat, graduate student Kyle Gallagher sent a double to right field allowing Mervis to score the go-ahead run. Cheek followed suit with a RBI double of his own to plate another run for Duke, making it a 7-5 contest, the eventual final.
The Blue Devils used six arms in the game, with the trio of sophomore Matt Dockman, junior Eli Herrick and sophomore Thomas Girard closing out the game with a combined 3.2 hitless innings. Dockman worked 2.1 frames, collecting three strikeouts, while Herrick (2-1) worked 0.1 inning to collect his second win of the season. Girard shut the door for Duke, working the ninth to notch his team-leading fourth save of the season with a 1-2-3 frame.
Offensively, the Blue Devils were paced by the foursome of Loperfido, Taylor, Cheek and Crabtree who each contributed two hits apiece. Crabtree added a team-high three RBI and two runs scored, Taylor also added a run scored to his totals.
Following the midweek contest with the Eagles, the Blue Devils are set for a weekend home series against Virginia Tech at Jack Coombs Field. The Blue Devils and the Hokies are slated for a 6 p.m. first pitch in Friday’s series opener, while Saturday’s and Sunday’s games are both scheduled for 1 p.m. starts at Coombs.
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