MORGANTOWN, W. Va. – A pair of four-run innings propelled the Duke baseball team to an 8-5 victory over second-seeded Texas A&M Friday afternoon at Monongalia County Ballpark. With the win, the Blue Devils improve to 31-25 on the season and advance into the NCAA Morgantown Regional winner’s bracket.
The Blue Devils scored tallied their eight runs in the contest with four-run frames in both the fourth and the eighth to sandwich a Texas A&M run in the fifth. The Aggies rallied for four runs in the ninth, and brought the tying run to the plate, but Duke would hold on for the 8-5 victory.
“I’m incredibly proud of our club,” said head coach Chris Pollard. “I thought we had a tremendous offensive approach against one of the best arms in the country. We kept our foot on the gas pedal after we had the big four-run inning and we were able to create some separation. The job by Ben Gross was tremendous. I can’t say enough about it.”
Duke received a standout effort from its starter Ben Gross (7-4) who earned his team-leading seventh win of the season. The graduate student right-hander went 7.0 innings, allowing only one earned runs on four hits and two walks while collecting five strikeouts. The sophomore duo of Thomas Girard and Matt Dockman combined to work the final two innings, with Girard covering 1.1 frames, allowing four earned runs on two hits and one walk. Dockman picked up his first save of the season, working the final two-thirds of the ninth to secure the win.
The Blue Devils struck first in the regional matchup, gaining the advantage with four runs in the fourth. With one down, sophomore Michael Rothenberg and graduate student Kyle Gallagher reached on back-to-back singles. In the next at-bat, junior Erikson Nichols connected on a deep drive to left field for a three-run shot to cross the first runs of the day.
Sophomore Chris Crabtree continued the inning with a double to center field before advancing to third on a wild pitch. Crabtree came across to score in the next at-bat on a RBI groundout from freshman RJ Schreck to give Duke a 4-0 lead heading into the bottom of the fourth.
The Aggies began to chip away at the deficit with one run in the fifth to make it a 4-1 contest. The Texas A&M leadoff man began things with a double to left field, before advancing to third on a fly out. A sacrifice fly in the next at-bat allowed the runner to score, giving the Aggies their first run of the day.
Duke broke things open with another four-run inning in the eighth. Rothenberg led off the inning with a double to center field before Gallagher followed with a single to center. With runners on the corners, Rothenberg came across to score on a wild pitch for the first run of the frame. Nichols used the next at-bat to send a single through the right side, marking his third hit of the ballgame. In a pinch-hit attempt, freshman Rudy Maxwell launched his third home run of the season with a three-run shot to left to set the score at 8-1.
Texas A&M made things interesting with four runs in the bottom of the ninth, while eventually bringing the tying run to the plate. With one down, a hit-by-pitch followed by a walk placed runners on first and second. A single through the right side in the next at-bat allowed one run to cross for the Aggies. After a hit-by-pitch loaded the bases, a wild pitch followed by a passed ball resulted in a pair of runs crossing for Texas A&M. The Aggies plated one more in the ninth with a single up the middle before the Blue Devils turned to Dockman for the final two outs to close out the 8-5 ballgame.
Offensively, the Blue Devils were led by three-hit contests from Nichols and Gallagher, with the two also contributing two runs scored apiece. Nichols and Maxwell each tied for the team-high in RBI, each adding three apiece.
With the win, Duke advances into the winner’s bracket of the NCAA Morgantown Regional. The Blue Devils are set for a 7 p.m. matchup Saturday night at Monongalia County Ballpark, and will face the winner of the West Virginia and Fordham contest.
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