DURHAM, N.C. – Duke’s bullpen trio of Eric Pfisterer, Michael Ness and Alex Hassan combined to hold Elon scoreless on just four hits over the final five innings to preserve a 3-2 Duke win Tuesday evening at Jack Coombs Field.
Pfisterer (2-1) picked up the win after taking over for starter Jonathan Foreman in the fourth inning and holding Elon (14-10) to three hits over 3.1 scoreless innings. Pfisterer struck five without giving up a walk before handing the ball over to Michael Ness, who pitched 1.1 scoreless innings, and closer Alex Hassan, who locked up his seventh save of the season with a hitless ninth inning. In addition to the five strikeouts he picked up, Pfisterer picked off two Elon runners, bringing his total to an ACC-leading six pickoffs on the season.
Duke scored all three runs in the fifth inning, thanks to a rally that started with leadoff singles by freshman center fielder Will Piwnica-Worms and sophomore third baseman Dennis O'Grady, who each went 2-for-3 with a run. After those two jump-started the inning, catcher Matt Williams came through with an RBI fielder’s choice ground ball that Elon mishandled and threw into the outfield to allow two runs to score on the play. Hassan then sent in the final run in the inning by grounding into a double play with leadoff batter Tom Luciano standing on third base.
Duke’s three-run fifth offset a pair of solo home runs from Elon’s Bennett Davis and Neal Pritchard. Davis and Pritchard homered in the second and third inning for Elon’s first two hits to give the Phoenix a temporary 2-0 lead before Duke went on top with the three-run fifth off of starter Tom Porter (0-2).
Porter suffered the loss after giving up two unearned runs in that inning before Elon used four relievers to hold Duke to just one hit over the remainder of the game.
Following a scoreless first inning, Davis put Elon on the board with a solo home run to the left field power alley. After Foreman retired the first batter in the second inning, Davis crushed the first pitch he saw well over the left-center field fence to give Elon its first hit and run of the ballgame.
Duke had an opportunity to erase the one-run deficit in the bottom of the second after putting two men in scoring position, but Porter, who gave up a two-out single to Piwnica-Worms and a two-double to O’Grady, found his control just in time to strike out Luciano to end the inning. The missed opportunity marked the second time in the first two innings that Duke left runners in scoring position, having stranded Williams on second base in the first inning after he reached with a one-out double.
The Phoenix made those two lost runs hurt even more in the third when Pritchard lifted another solo homer to the same spot as Davis that gave Elon a 2-0 lead. Pritchard’s homer shook Foreman’s concentration, as he followed by walking leadoff man Cory Harrilchak, who reached base safely for the 57th straight game. Williams helped erase that free pass four pitches later, however, after he and Foreman telegraphed Harrilchak’s steal attempt and gunned him down at second base on a pitch-out. Foreman seized the momentum from the play and struck out Chase Austin with his next pitch for the second out. Foreman had another lapse in control to follow the punchout, however, and plunked three-hitter Pat Irvine before walking Justin Hilt to give Elon two base runners with two outs. He buckled down just in time, however, and forced designated hitter Mike Melillo to fly out to center field for the third out.
Foreman got the better of David the second time around, forcing him to foul out to Williams just behind the plate. Foreman would then dished out his fourth walk of the game to Ryan Adams, however, which prompted Duke head coach Sean McNally to bring in Pfisterer, who inherited the runner on first base with one out. Pfisterer came in to face Dallas Tortleton, who snuck a single through the right side to give Elon two base runners with just one out. That would be the end of Elon’s rally, however, as Pfisterer picked up his 20th strikeout of the season against Pritchard for the second out and picked off Tortleton on first base for his fifth pickoff the season.
Pfisterer came back out in the top of the fifth and struck out two more as part of another scoreless inning. The Blue Devils picked Pfisterer up in the bottom half of the fifth and scored three runs to take their first lead of the ballgame and knock Porter out of the game. Duke’s eight and nine hitters – Piwnica-Worms and O’Grady – started the rally with two straight singles and were soon joined on the bases by Luciano, who drew a five-pitch walk. With the bases loaded and no outs, Williams came to the plate and drove a hard-hit ground ball to the right side of Elon shortstop Pritchard, who backhanded it to keep it in the infield. Pritchard tried to flip the ball to second base to force out Luciano, but his throw was wide and sailed into right field to allow both Piwnica-Worms and O’Grady to score. The throwing error left runners at the corners with no outs for Hassan, who grounded into a double play, but still got the go-ahead run across the plate. Hassan then drew a two-out walk, prompting Elon to swap out Porter for Jared Kernodle, who got the final out without having to throw a pitch to Freiman. Hassan took off for second base before Kernodle delivered his first pitch to the plate, but the Phoenix defense recognized the early steal and let Kernodle know just in time for him to fire the ball to second base, where Hassan was tagged out.
Pfisterer tossed another scoreless inning in the sixth to keep Duke on top 3-2. He picked up his second pickoff of the game and his ACC-leading sixth of the season in the frame after catching Melillo sleeping on second base.
The Blue Devils had a chance to build on their one-run lead in the bottom of the sixth, but stranded two runners in scoring position after putting them there with no outs. Kernodle gave Duke both runners, hitting Gould and walking Lemmerman, and put them both in scoring position by himself with a throwing error on a failed pickoff. But just as he put himself in the jam, he got himself out by getting three straight outs, including a shallow fly out to left field and two groundouts to keep the runners at bay.
Pfisterer got into a jam in the top half of the seventh, but got some help from Ness, who bailed him out by stranding the tying run on third base. Pfisterer opened the inning by striking out Tortleton for his fifth strikeout of the game, but gave up a one-out double to Pritchard down the left field line. After a brief meeting with pitching coach Sean Snedeker, he forced Harrilchak to ground out to the left side for the second out, but allowed Pritchard to reach third base in the process. With the tying run on third base with two outs and Austin coming to the plate, Duke opted to bring in Ness, who needed just one pitch to retire the Elon two-hitter and end the inning with Duke’s 3-2 lead intact.
After getting shut down in the bottom of the seventh, Duke made a defensive switch at third base and brought in junior Ryan McCurdy, who led all ACC third basemen in fielding percentage heading into the game. The move turned out to make little difference in the top of the eighth, however, as Ness got through the inning almost entirely on his own. He struck out the first two batters he faced before giving up a two-out single to Melillo, but followed by rolling a ground ball back to himself that he converted into a force out at first base that took the game into the bottom of the eighth.
Duke made another defensive swap in the top of the ninth and brought in freshman Joe Pedevillano to take over in right field for Hassan, who toed the rubber to get the final three outs of the game. Pedevillano ended up robbing Pritchard of his third hit of the ballgame by making a diving catch on a shallow fly ball. Pedevillano and the rest of Duke’s outfield were in a deep, no-doubles alignment with a runner on first base when Pritchard lifted the blooper to right-center field, but Pedevillano made up every inch of ground he could before he dove toward the infield to catch the ball in the web of his glove for the second out. The out proved to be crucial, as Elon would put two men on base before Hassan was able to strike out Austin for the final out of the game. The save was Hassan’s seventh of the season and the 12th of his career, moving him into sole possession of third place on Duke’s all-time list.
Duke will resume its 2009 ACC schedule this Friday, April 3, with the first of a three-game series against No. 20 Clemson at Doug Kingsmore Stadium in Clemson, S.C. Games one and two are slated for 6:30 p.m. start times, while Sunday’s finale will begin at 1 p.m.