DURHAM, N.C. – Nate Freiman went 3-for-5 with two doubles and three RBI to back a six-hitter from the Duke pitching staff in the Blue Devils’ 16-3 win over N.C. Central Tuesday evening at the Durham Bulls Athletic Park.
Freiman reached base in four of his six plate appearances for his second straight multi-hit, multi-RBI game. Over his past two games, Freiman has driven in eight runs on seven hits, including three home runs and two doubles. Freiman was one of five Blue Devils with multiple hits against N.C. Central (4-13) and helped support a career-long five-inning performance from Duke starter Trevor Cesar (2-1), who struck out five batters and scattered four hits and a run for his second straight win.
Designated hitter Jeremy Gould went 3-for-4 to extend his team-high hitting streak to 10 games for the Blue Devils (18-9, 6-6 ACC), who stole a season-high seven bases and won their sixth straight non-conference game. Outfielder Tom Luciano, batting in the leadoff spot for the first time in his career, went 2-for-5 with a pair of stolen bases and two runs, while two-hitter Matt Williams finished 2-for-3 and center fielder Will Piwnica-Worms finished 2-for-3 with a pair of RBI. Williams, Freiman, Piwnica-Worms and second baseman Gabriel Saade all had multiple RBI in the win.
Following the five-inning performance from Cesar, Duke used four relievers to get through the end of the game. Freshman Ben Grisz tossed a career-high 2.0 innings, giving up just one walk while striking out three. Seniors Tim Sherlock and Kyle Butler threw one scoreless inning apiece to get through the eighth and ninth with Sherlock picking up the first two strikeouts of his career.
Duke hammered N.C. Central’s pitchers for 16 hits and scored off all but one Eagle. Starter Jeff Citero (1-4) took the loss after surrendering eight hits and six runs – five earned – over three innings.
Leadoff batter Akeem Hood paced the Eagle offense with two hits, a walk and three stolen bases, but was one of the few bright spots for an N.C. Central offense that knocked out seven hits against the Blue Devil staff. Blake Murray, Jerel Campbell and Kurt Wilson each had RBI hits in the game, but N.C. Central got little production from the bottom of its lineup. The Eagles’ six through nine spots went a combined 0-for-12.
Luciano created a run entirely on his own in the first inning to put Duke ahead 1-0. He opened the game by laying a bunt single down the third base line and then stealing second on the next pitch to put himself in scoring position. He took off for third on the next pitch and slid in safe, but drew a throw from N.C. Central catcher Robert Grant which sailed into left field and allowed him to trot across the plate.
Hood tried to do the same for the Eagles in the bottom of the first, but was left stranded on third base after opening the inning with a line drive single to right field. N.C. Central played small ball to push Hood over to third, getting him to second on a wild pitch and to third on a sacrifice bunt. Cesar buckled down when he needed to, however, striking out Murray for out number two and forcing Wilson to fly out to center field for the third out.
Cesar had a much easier go-round in the bottom of the second, sitting down N.C. Central’s six through eight hitters in order. Cesar opened the inning with his second strikeout of the game and used just four more pitches to get through the rest of the inning.
Citero managed to hold Duke to just one run in the first two innings, but could not keep the Blue Devil bats down for long. Duke hammered six hits on the way to five runs in the top of the third to claim a 6-0 lead. After Ryan McCurdy started the rally with an opposite field single, Duke pounded four straight hits, including a two-run double by Freiman that rolled to the fence in the left field gap and sent in Hassan and Williams. Freiman would then steal third for his first stolen base of the season just before Gould drove him in with a single that squeaked through the left side. Gould stole second on the next pitch to put himself in scoring position for Piwnica-Worms, who sent him in with a base hit to right field that he legged out for his fourth double in Duke’s last six games.
The Eagles responded with their first run of the game in the bottom half of the third, thanks to a two-out double by Murray that scored Hood from third base. Hood started the rally by drawing a one-out walk and stealing second before Oliver Jenkins pushed him over to third with a groundout to the right side.
Duke got the run back in the top of the fourth and went ahead 7-1, thanks to Saade’s base running and a well-executed hit-and-run by Williams. Saade led off the inning by drawing a full-count walk, but was still on first base after Eagles left-hander Brandon Oatis retired Duke’s next two batters. With Williams at the plate, Oatis tried to pick Saade off first base, but Saade took off on his first movement toward second base. Murray caught Oatis’ throw on the base and fired over to second, but Saade was already sliding head first into the bag and snuck his left hand past the tag to come up safe with a stolen base. Just as he took off for third on the next pitch, Williams slapped a ground ball back up the middle for a base hit that easily allowed Saade to score and gave Williams his second RBI of the game.
Duke’s bats stayed hot in the top of the fifth, pounding three more hits on the way to a three-run inning that put the Blue Devils ahead 10-1. Gould, Lemmerman and Piwnica-Worms each had consecutive hits to start the rally which continued when Oatis dished out consecutive walks to Saade and McCurdy. The second walk prompted the Eagles to bring in Douglas Dalley, who inherited a bases-loaded, one out jam. Grant mishandled Dalley’s first offering and let it roll to the backstop for a run-scoring passed ball. That would be the only run allowed on Dalley’s watch, however, as he got two of the next three Duke batters out to limit the damage to three runs and strand three runners on base.
Cesar continued to have trouble getting N.C. Central’s leadoff man out and allowed him to reach third base for the third time in the game, but once again left him stranded by striking out his fifth batter of the game. Cesar had struck out a batter in four of five innings in the game and thrown just 66 pitches in his first five innings of work, 43 of which went in for strikes.
Duke tacked on two more runs in the top of the sixth, thanks to an Eagle fielding error that led to two unearned runs. Gould started the inning off with a double to left field before he was replaced on second base by pinch runner Joe Pedevillano. Pedevillano was soon joined on the base paths by Lemmerman, who drew a one-out walk that brought pinch hitter Marcus Jones to the plate with men on first and second. Jones ripped a ground ball back to the mound where Dalley fielded it, but threw it into foul territory while trying to throw out Pedevillano at third base. Pedevillano would score on the play, while Lemmerman went to third, where he was soon driven in by a sacrifice fly by Saade.
Grisz took over on the mound to start the bottom of the sixth inning and struck out two batters in the inning. Grisz would strike out one more in the seventh on the way to a career-long two inning performance in which he did not give up a hit.
An RBI double by Freiman and an RBI groundout by Pedevillano let Duke score for the fifth straight inning and take a 14-1 lead in the top of the seventh. Freiman’s double – his second of the game – drove in Luciano, who started the inning with a single to right field. Pedevillano followed with a groundout to the right side that scored pinch hitter Brian Litwin.
Grisz gave way to Putman in the eighth inning, giving his freshman classmate a 14-1 lead to protect with six remaining outs to pick up. Putman struggled with his control early, giving up a leadoff double to Oliver Jenkins and a walk to Murray that came back to hurt him when Jerel Campbell dropped an RBI single into right field. After Campbell’s single, Duke brought in the left-handed Sherlock, who inherited runners at the corners with no outs. Freiman, who donned the catcher’s gear in the bottom of the seventh, helped out his senior classmate by throwing out Campbell when he tried to steal second base for the first out of the inning. But Freiman, who played first base for the first six innings, could do little to help out when Anthony Wilson slapped a grounder past the mound where Lemmerman cut it off and threw to first base. Lemmerman’s throw was in time for the out, but Eric Pfisterer, who went over to first base after getting a pinch-hit single in the seventh, came off the bag before he received the ball to give Wilson a free pass to first base and an RBI after Murray came in from third base on the play. That would be N.C. Central’s final run, however, as Sherlock responded by striking out two straight to end the inning.
Duke got two more runs in the top of the ninth without a hit. James Jordan, who entered the game on the mound for the Eagles in the eighth, walked three batters and hit two more to give Duke five free base runners and a 15-3 lead.
Butler closed out the ninth for Duke to lock up the win, rebounding from a leadoff single to retire three straight and end the game. It was the second straight scoreless outing for Butler, who has given up just one run in his six innings of work this season.
Duke will resume its mid-week slate with a 7 p.m. meeting against Elon on Wednesday, April 1, at Jack Coombs Field. Duke will then head to Clemson, S.C., for a three-game ACC series against No. 20 Clemson on April 3-5. Games one and two of the series will begin at 6:30 p.m. at Doug Kinsmore Stadium, and game three will start at 1 p.m. Duke split the series with the Tigers 1-1-1 last season at Jack Coombs Field.