DURHAM, N.C. – Five runs in the first two innings provided all the offense Liberty would need as it downed the Duke baseball team 9-3 on Wednesday at Durham Bulls Athletic Park. With the win, the Flames improve to 33-15 while the Blue Devils slip to 28-19.
Duke’s top two hitters in the order in sophomore Joey Loperfido and freshman Ethan Murray paced the offense, combining to go four-for-eight with both of Duke’s extra base hits, including a Murray solo home run to open the bottom of the fourth.
Liberty starter Mason Meyer tossed the first four innings, scattering a pair of hits to go with three walks and a trio of strikeouts in yielding a run. Garret Price (7-2) went the next two frames and earned the win, holding Duke to a run on two hits and two walks with two whiffs. Cole Garrett went the next two innings, giving up a run on four hits and two strikeouts. Landon Riley came in for the ninth and sent the Blue Devils down in order with three punchouts.
On the mound for Duke, freshman Cooper Stinson (1-3) took the loss, lasting 1.2 innings and surrendering five runs on four hits, a walk and three strikeouts. Rookie Kyle Salley covered the next 1.1 frames, issuing a run on three hits and four walks as well as one whiff. Freshman Jack Carey pitched two clean innings before giving way to freshman Aaron Beasley, who went two innings and surrendered three runs on four hits, a walk and one strikeout. Senior Al Pesto threw the eighth and allowed one hit with junior Matt Mervis going the ninth and fanning one while yielding one hit and a free pass.
The Flames took an early 2-0 lead on a two-run homer from Jonathan Embry in the first. A leadoff single from Gray Betts set the stage for Embry’s blast over the wall in right center. Stinson settled down with a strikeout and two fly outs.
Liberty pushed home three more in the top of the second with a two-out rally for a 5-0 advantage. After consecutive strikeouts started the frame, Jaylen Guy singled and stole second. Trey McDyre walked and Betts plated Guy with a single through the left side. Another walk, this one to Embry, loaded the bases for Cam Locklear, who singled to right to deliver McDyre and Betts. A fly out capped the frame.
A sacrifice fly from Brandon Rohrer in the top of the fourth drove in Embry, who had walked to open the frame, and pushed the Flames’ lead to 6-0.
Duke scored its first run in the bottom of the fourth with Murray’s long ball. The blast was Murray’s fifth of the year, tied for the third most on the squad.
The Blue Devils struck again in the bottom of the sixth with their own two-out rally to cut the deficit to 6-2. After a whiff and groundout opened the frame, junior Chase Cheek and sophomore Michael Rothenberg drew consecutive walks before freshman Rudy Maxwell singled to right to plate Cheek. A groundout halted the threat.
In the top of the seventh, the Flames immediately answered with three runs to go up 9-2. Tyler Galazin led off with a single, stole second and scored on Ben Highfill’s double down the right-field line. After a sacrifice bunt moved Highfill to third, McDyre walked to put runners on the corners. Betts bounced a single over first baseman Mervis and into right field, allowing Highfill to score and moving McDyre to third. A sacrifice fly from Embry drove in the frame’s final run as McDyre crossed home. Betts was picked off first to end the frame.
In the bottom of the eighth, Duke scored its last run for the 9-3 final. With one out, Cheek singled to center field, advanced to second on a wild pitch, moved to third on a groundout and scored on junior Erikson Nichols’ single to left field. A groundout closed the inning.
Duke wraps up the home regular season slate this weekend with a three-game series against No. 7 Georgia Tech. Game one is set for Friday at 6 p.m. with Saturday’s and Sunday’s contests beginning at 1 p.m.
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