CLEMSON, S.C. – The Duke baseball team used a two-out rally in the top of the ninth to push across two runs to complete the comeback and secure a 9-8 victory over No. 16 Clemson Friday night in the series opener at Doug Kingsmore Stadium. With the win, the Blue Devils improve to 22-16 on the season, including a 9-10 mark in ACC play.
“I’m really proud of our club,” said head coach Chris Pollard. “To get down early and have an answer, I thought we had a very good offensive approach against some arms that it’s tough to have a good offensive approach against. I thought we made some plays defensively.”
The Blue Devils entered the top of the ninth trailing, 8-7. Down to its final strike in a 2-2 count, Duke freshman Ethan Murray lined a two-out RBI single to plate the tying run in graduate student Kyle Gallagher, who had reached earlier on a one-out walk. After Clemson (25-13, 11-8 ACC) made a call to its bullpen, sophomore Michael Rothenberg greeted the new arm with a RBI double into the left center gap to score Murray and put Duke in front, 9-8.
Duke fell behind on three separate occasions in Friday’s series opener, but fought back all three times in a contest that featured three ties and six lead changes. Clemson got on the board early with one run in the first before adding two tallies in the third to widen its lead. The back-and-forth contest saw the two teams swap runs in the fourth and seventh innings before the Blue Devils plated two in the ninth to seal the one-run victory.
After surrendering six runs through the first four innings, Blue Devil starter Ben Gross battled back to put up zeros in the fifth and sixth frames to close out his sixth start of the season. The graduate student right-hander allowed six earned on four hits and four walks, while collecting three strikeouts before turning it over to his bullpen. The sophomore duo of Matt Dockman and Thomas Girard combined to go the final three frames to complete the ballgame. Dockman (4-1) picked up his fourth win of the season, working 2.0 frames, allowing two earned runs on three hits while recording two strikeouts. Girard slammed the door for Duke, covering the final frame to notch his sixth save of the season.
“We weren’t necessarily perfect on the mound,” added Pollard. “Ben (Gross) didn’t dominate like he has the previous four starts, and you’re not going to always dominate, but he got us deep into the ballgame. He got us through the sixth inning and I thought that was really big. Matt (Dockman) had some bad luck there in the seventh and came back and gave us a clean eighth inning which was huge. Thomas (Girard) was dominant again in the ninth.”
Offensively, the Blue Devils were paced by three-hit efforts from Murray and Rothenberg. Murray finished 3-for-5 with two RBI and a team-high three runs scored, while Rothenberg closed out the ballgame with a 3-for-5 outing that included one double and a career-high tying four RBI. Junior Chase Cheek also contributed a multi-hit game for Duke, going 2-for-4 with one RBI and one run scored.
The Tigers kicked off the day’s scoring, using a leadoff to cross the game’s first run and jump out to an early lead. Sam Hall sent the third pitch of the inning over the left field fence to give Clemson a 1-0 lead after one full.
Clemson used two hits in the third to score a pair of runs and extend its lead to 3-0. The inning began with a double down the third base line, before the Tiger leadoff man advanced to third one out later on a fly ball to center. After a walk placed runners on the corners, a groundout allowed a run to cross for the Tigers before a RBI single plated the second run of the inning.
The Blue Devils put up a four spot in the fourth to move ahead and grab the advantage. The frame began with back-to-back singles from senior Kennie Taylor and junior Matt Mervis to place runners on the corners with nobody out. In the next at-bat, a passed ball skirted pass the Clemson catcher to allow Taylor to come across and put Duke in the scoring column. One out later, Cheek lined a single to left field to score the inning’s second run.
The frame continued with a single from Murray to place runners on first and third before a RBI single from Rothenberg evened things at three apiece. With runners on the corners, junior Erikson Nichols used the next at-bat to lay down a bunt, allowing the go-ahead run to cross and push Duke ahead, 4-3.
Clemson responded with three runs in the very next half to retake the lead. After back-to-back walks to begin the inning, a sacrifice bunt advanced the runners to second and third with one out. A groundout in the next at-bat allowed one run to cross, knotting the score up at four before Hall launched his second home run of the contest to left field to put the Tigers in front, 6-4, after four innings of play.
The two teams went scoreless across the next two frames before Duke broke through with three runs in the seventh to grab the advantage. Taylor began the frame with a leadoff walk while Gallagher reached on a one-out walk to put a pair of runners on. After Cheek singled to center to load the bases, Murray reached on a fielder’s choice, allowing one run to cross for the Blue Devils.
Murray then moved into scoring position with his sixth stolen base of the season to place runners on second and third for Rothenberg, who sent a single through the left side of the infield to score two and give the Blue Devils a 7-6 lead heading into the stretch.
The Tigers answered back with a pair of runs in the home half of the seventh to regain the advantage. The scoring sequence began with back-to-back singles to put a pair of runners on for the Tigers. With runners on the corners, the Clemson leadoff man darted towards the plate on the 1-1 pitch to steal home and even the score at seven apiece. One out later, a RBI groundout allowed the inning’s second run to cross and set the score at 8-7 in Clemson’s favor.
After a scoreless eighth inning, Duke scratched across a pair of runs in the ninth, highlighted by Rothenberg’s RBI double to plate the go-ahead run and clinch the 9-8 win.
The two teams return to the diamond tomorrow afternoon as Duke looks to claim the series. Game two is set for a 3 p.m. first pitch at Doug Kingsmore Stadium, with coverage airing live on ACC Network Extra.
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