DURHAM, N.C. – After a seven-day break off for final exams, the Duke baseball team returned to the diamond Sunday afternoon to split a doubleheader with VCU at Jack Coombs Field.
Duke (28-18) reeled off a 2-1 win in game one before falling to VCU in game two, 5-3 to split the series. The Blue Devils used an impressive pitching performance to claim the first contest of the day before falling in the second game thanks to a late rally from the Rams in the top of the ninth.
The Blue Devils are back in action Wednesday evening for a midweek matchup with Liberty. The teams are set for a 6 p.m. first pitch at Durham Bulls Athletic Park, with coverage airing live on ACC Network Extra.
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Duke 2, VCU 1 (Game One)
VCU struck first in game one of the doubleheader, plating one run in the third to grab a 1-0 lead. The inning began with a leadoff single to center before a sacrifice bunt advanced the runner into scoring position. After a single to left placed runners on the corners, a sacrifice fly allowed one run to cross, giving the Rams the one-run lead.
Duke responded one inning later with two runs in the fifth to gain the advantage. Senior Kennie Taylor began things with a leadoff single to right field before junior Matt Mervis and graduate student Kyle Gallagher reached on back-to-back walks to load the bases. In the next at-bat, junior Chase Cheek reached on a fielder’s choice which allowed one run to cross to place the Blue Devils in the scoring column. One batter later, freshman Ethan Murray sent a sacrifice fly to right field to plate the second run of the inning to set the score at 2-1 in Duke’s favor.
The Rams reached at least one runner in three of the final five innings, including two runners in the eighth. With runners on second and third, sophomore Thomas Girard collected a strikeout to end the eighth inning to thwart the VCU threat and protect Duke’s one-run lead.
Graduate student Ben Gross (6-3) picked up his team-leading sixth win of the season, working 4.0 innings, allowing one earned run on three hits and one walk while collecting four strikeouts. The sophomore duo of Bryce Jarvis and Girard covered the final 5.0 frames, with Jarvis tossing 2.2, surrendering one hit and one walk while striking out five. Girard earned his eighth save of the season, going the final 2.1 innings, yielding only one hit and recording four strikeouts.
VCU’s Connor Gillispie suffered the loss in the contest, tossing 4.0 innings, allowing two earned runs on three hits and two walks while collecting six punchouts. Ben Dum covered the next 4.0 frames, scattering only one hit and one walk across the span to keep the Rams within striking distance.
Duke 3, VCU 5 (Game Two)
VCU struck first again in game two of the twinbill, a trio of runs in the top of the first to grab an early 3-0 lead. After a leadoff single began the game, a hit-by-pitch followed by a single loaded the bases for the Rams. One out later, an infield single allowed the game’s first run to cross. One batter later, a single up the middle plated two more runs for VCU to give the Rams a three-run cushion after a half-inning of play.
The two teams went scoreless across the next three frames until the Blue Devils began to chip away at the lead, staring with one run in the fifth. Murray led things off with a single up the middle before sophomore Michael Rothenberg reached on a five-pitch walk. In the next at-bat junior Erikson Nichols sent a bloop single to left field to load the bases and set up a sacrifice fly from sophomore Joey Loperfido to set the score at 3-1 after five full.
Duke returned in the sixth to put up another single tally to continue to trim the deficit and make it a 3-2 ballgame. With one down, Gallagher sent a solo shot to left field, marking his team-high tying sixth home run of the season to make it a one-run ballgame.
The Blue Devils knotted things up with another one-run inning in the eighth to tie the score at 3-3. Mervis began the scoring sequence, reaching on a hit-by-pitch to begin the inning. Two outs later, Murray legged out an infield single before an errant throw from the VCU third baseman allowed Mervis to score from first to even things at three apiece.
The Rams answered back in the very next half, rallying for a pair of runs in the top of the ninth to move ahead and regain the lead. After a leadoff walk and a hit-by-pitch placed runners on first and second, a sacrifice bunt allowed both runners to advance to second and third with only one out. A pinch-hit single in the next at-bat allowed both runners to score to put VCU ahead and set the score at 5-3, the eventual final.
Duke would not go quietly, making a threat in the ninth with the tying runs on base. Loperfido reached on a fielder’s choice before Taylor lined a single through the left side to place runners on first and second. The Blue Devils brought the go-ahead run to the plate, but a strikeout would go as the final out of the ballgame to strand both runners on.
Freshman Jack Carey (3-1) suffered the loss in game two in a relief effort, marking his first loss of the 2019 campaign. The freshman right-hander allowed two earned runs on no hits while walking one across his 1.0 inning of work.