DURHAM, N.C. - For the first time this season, the Duke baseball team battled to extra innings but the Blue Devils came up just short, falling to Virginia Tech 2-1 Friday evening at the Durham Bulls Athletic Park.
Behind a solid performance from starter Trent Swart, Duke held a 1-0 lead heading into the top of the eighth. An Alex Perez solo home run to right field tied the game 1-1 before the Hokies scored the go-ahead run in the 11th.
"First off, it was a great ball game," said head coach Chris Pollard. "Both teams played great. I thought both starting pitchers - [Brad] Markey and Swart - pitched astounding. I thought both teams played great defense. They just pushed one more across. [I'm] really proud of our guys. I thought we showed a ton of fight."
Swart left the game with the one-run lead after tossing seven scoreless innings. The Duke left-hander scattered six hits and struck out seven batters on the night. Swart improved as the game progressed, recording six of his seven strikeouts in his final four innings.
Virginia Tech threatened early, putting multiple runners on with no outs in the first and second, but Swart was able to work out of the jam both times.
In the top of the first, back-to-back singles placed men at the corners before Hokie third baseman Chad Pinder hit into a fielder's choice up the middle. Duke second baseman Andy Perez then gunned down the lead runner at the plate on the play to keep the game scoreless.
The Blue Devils got a second double play in the second to once again end a Virginia Tech scoring opportunity. With the bases loaded and no outs, Swart struck out Kyle Wernicki before shortstop Kenny Koplove doubled up the Hokie runner on second after snaring a line drive.
"The effort that we had to get off the field in the first and second innings with nobody scoring, really gave us a chance to be in the ball game," Pollard added."If we don't make plays right there, [Virginia Tech] could push a few across and we could be playing out of a hole all game. It's just a credit to the way we've been playing defense that we make those plays. What it did, it really allowed Trent to get settled in and he got better and better as the game went on."
Senior catcher Ryan Munger registered his first RBI of the season in the second inning, sending a base hit through the left side to plate sophomore Grant McCabe, who had drawn a walk and stolen second. Munger reached base three times on the night, going 2-for-3 at the plate with a walk and an RBI.
Duke had its chances to put more runs on the board, but Virginia Tech was able to keep the deficit at 1-0 heading into the eighth. Munger singled to leadoff the fifth and advanced to third after an Andy Perez single and a Jeff Kremer fielder's choice. However, the Blue Devils would leave him stranded as Markey got the strikeout to end the frame.
Markey was also stellar on the mound for the Hokies, allowing just the one run in 8.1 innings of work. The Hokie right-hander gave up six hits and struck out five in his fifth appearance of the year.
The Blue Devils almost came up with their second walkoff victory of the season, placing two men on with one out in the bottom of the ninth. Virginia Tech righty Jake Joyce, who came on in relief, worked out of the bind with a strikeout and a groundout to send the game to extra innings.
Following a scoreless 10th, Virginia Tech was able to push across its second run of the game in the 11th. Pinder began the frame with a leadoff single before Tyler Horan hit into a fielder's choice. Mark Zagunis then flew out to center for the second out. Perez nearly made a spectacular diving grab on an Andrew Rash flare single to end the threat, but the ball fell in along the right field line. Pinch hitter Chad Morgan then came to the plate and delivered an RBI single to right to score Horan from third.
"The reality is we had our chance in the bottom of the ninth and just didn't come up with the hit," Pollard said. "We had what looked like maybe the third out of the inning on the pop up behind first base. Andy [Perez] made a great effort, it was just placed in a perfect spot. Credit them, they took advantage of that and came up with the big hit."
Duke refused to give in in the bottom of the 11th as sophomore Reed Anthes singled to center with two outs and junior Mark Lumpa followed with a walk to put the winning run aboard. However, Joyce was able to induce the groundout to short to end the game.
Joyce (3-1) recorded the win for the Hokies, throwing 2.2 innings in relief. He allowed just one hit and one walk while striking out three batters. Sophomore Andrew Istler (1-2) would take the loss for the Blue Devils as the right-hander allowed two runs on six hits in four innings.
Perez led Duke with a 3-for-6 performance at the plate, his first three-hit game of the season. Munger, Anthes and McCabe recorded the remaining hits for the Blue Devils.
Duke and Virginia Tech will meet in game two of the series Saturday at 1 p.m., at the Durham Bull Athletic Park. Game three is set for a 1 p.m., start Sunday.