DURHAM, N.C. – Tyler Light struck out eight batters and gave up one run over seven innings to lead Liberty to a 4-1 win over Duke Tuesday afternoon at Jack Coombs Field.
Light scattered six hits and a walk and gave up his only run on an RBI groundout from Blue Devil catcher Matt Williams in the fifth inning. The senior right-hander threw 97 pitches in the affair – 68 for strikes – before relievers Carter Browning (2-1) and Andrew Wilson combined to keep Duke (32-21, 13-14 ACC) hitless over the final two innings.
Just after Browning worked out of a first-and-second jam in the eighth inning, Liberty broke out for a three-run ninth inning that featured RBI singles from Casey Brown and Justin Richardson. The three-run inning broke a seven-inning scoreless streak in which Duke starter Eric Pfisterer and relievers Ryan Knott, Tim Sherlock and Kyle Butler combined to retire 17 consecutive batters to keep the game tied at 1-1. Sophomore Dennis O'Grady (1-2) was the first Blue Devil to falter, however, and gave up four hits and three runs to take the loss.
Center fielder Curran Redal led off the ninth inning with a double for his second hit of the game. He was one of two Flames with multiple hits, joining designated hitter Cody Brown who knocked two singles and sent in Liberty’s other RBI in the first inning.
Duke got its lone run on Williams’ groundout in the fifth inning. For his 44th RBI of the season, Williams slapped a two-strike ground ball to the right side that plated sophomore Ryan McCurdy, who opened the inning with a single. The lone extra-base hit came from freshman Will Piwnica-Worms, who hit a double in the second inning for his fourth extra-base hit in Duke’s last six games. Junior Jeremy Gould also singled to extend his hitting streak to 16 games, while senior designated hitter Nate Freiman reached base three times with a pair of singles and a walk.
Liberty jumped out to a 1-0 lead in the first inning after stringing together a pair of two-out hits, including an RBI single from Brown. Pfisterer opened the inning by striking out leadoff man Matt Williams, but then gave up a single back up the middle to Redal and another bunt single to catcher Errol Hollinger. With two outs and men on first and second, Brown battled to a full count and then slapped a base hit to right field as part of a hit-and-run that gave the Flames a 1-0 lead.
Pfisterer got his third and fourth strikeouts of the game to start the second inning and then got nine-hitter Kizuku Scott to fly out to right field to complete the 1-2-3 inning. Pfisterer used a breaking ball to get John Long swinging for the first out and then snuck a fastball on the outside corner to get Trey Wimmer looking.
Duke put runners on second and third with no outs to start the bottom of the second, but came away empty-handed when Light struck out two batters and then got Joe Pedevillano to fly out to right for the third out. Jeremy Gould opened the inning with a leadoff single and then moved to third on a well-hit double by Piwnica-Worms that landed on the warning track in the left field gap. That would be as close as both runners would come to scoring, however, as Light got Marcus Jones swinging and O’Grady looking for his third and fourth punchouts of the game. With two outs and the two Blue Devils still in scoring position, Light got ahead 0-2 in the count against Pedevillano before forcing him to fly out to right field to get himself out of the jam.
As planned, Pfisterer gave the ball to Knott to start the third inning with Duke trailing 1-0. Knott made quick work of the top of Liberty’s lineup and induced three ground balls to the right side to retire the side in order. Two of those went through O’Grady, who fielded the second ball on the run and flipped it out of his glove to Gould just in time to get Doug Bream for the final out.
Light worked his way out of another jam in the bottom of the third, stranding three base runners to keep the Flames ahead 3-0. Light retired the first two batters he faced, but then gave up consecutive singles to Williams and Freiman before walking Gould to load the bases. On the first pitch to Piwnica-Worms, however, Light got the Duke freshman to foul out to his catcher and strand all three Blue Devils on base.
Knott mowed down the middle of Liberty’s lineup in the top of the fourth, using just seven pitches to sit down the side in order again. He needed just two to get Cody Brown to foul out and Casey Brown to ground out. In his first two innings, Knott had used just 14 pitches while retiring all six batters he faced.
Unfortunately for Duke, however, Light was just as effective through his first four innings. While Duke knocked out four hits off of Light, the Liberty right-hander kept pounding the strike zone and sent 44 of his first 63 pitches in for strikes. He used 14 pitches in the bottom of the fourth to strike out two more Blue Devils, giving him six punchouts for the game.
After Knott’s perfect two innings, the left-handed Sherlock took the mound to face the bottom of Liberty’s lineup and retired all three batters he faced. His effort was the fourth straight inning in which the Blue Devils retired the side in order, giving the Duke trio of Pfisterer, Knott and Sherlock a streak of 13 consecutive batters retired.
Duke finally scratched a run across to tie the game at 1-1 in the bottom of the fifth, thanks to a leadoff single from McCurdy and an RBI groundout from Williams. McCurdy started the rally with a first-pitch single through the right side and then got a free pass to third when Liberty catcher Hollinger misfired to first base on a failed pickoff attempt. Hollinger’s throw got past Wimmer’s glove and sailed into right field, which gave McCurdy just enough time to go from first to third with no outs. Light then got Jake Lemmerman to ground to third base, but had no choice to concede the run on the next play when Williams slapped a two-strike ground ball to the right side. Freiman followed with at two-strike single, but was left on first base when Gould grounded out to third base.
Sherlock sat down three more batters in the top of the sixth, striking out one, to extend Duke’s run to 16 consecutive batters retired. That streak would end at 17 in the top of the seventh, however, when Kyle Butler gave up a one-out single to Cody Brown. Butler would still face the minimum in the inning, however, when he rolled a ground ball to Lemmerman that he converted into Duke’s 48th double play of the season.
Light retired seven straight from the end of the fifth to the seventh to keep the game at 1-1. He ended the seventh by picking up his eighth strikeout of the game. His pitch count sat at just under 100 pitches heading into the eighth.
The Flames got a leadoff walk in the top of the eight, but left him stranded at second after Butler retired three straight to get out of the jam. One of those outs was a sacrifice bunt from Wimmer that moved Long to second base, but that preceded a strikeout and a groundout that got Duke out of the jam and kept the game tied at 1-1.
With Light’s pitch count at 97 after seven innings, the Flames opted to bring in Browning to face the middle of Duke’s lineup. Browning gave up a walk to Freiman and then a two-out intentional walk to Piwnica-Worms that gave Duke two men on with two outs. Duke then called on junior Will Currier to step into the box as a pinch hitter. Currier struck took one pitch for a ball and then struck a 1-0 fastball into deep center field, but center fielder Curran Redal was able to chase it down and glove it for the third out.
Liberty finally broke out of a seven-inning scoreless streak with a three-run ninth inning that put the Flames ahead 4-1. Liberty knocked four hits in the inning, including a leadoff double from Redal and consecutive RBI singles from Casey Brown and Long. All three runs came off of O’Grady, who took the loss after Liberty closer Andrew Wilson sat down all three Blue Devils he faced in the bottom of the ninth to earn his fifth save of the year.
With the regular season winding down, Duke will host No. 7 Georgia Tech at Jack Coombs Field on May 14-16. The home series will be the last of the season for the Blue Devils, who need a win against the Yellow Jackets or a Virginia Tech loss to qualify for the ACC Tournament.