DURHAM, N.C. – No. 4 North Carolina built a seven-run lead through five but No. 13 Duke cut the lead to two and brought the tying run to the plate in the ninth before falling, 8-6, in the series finale Sunday afternoon at the Durham Bulls Athletic Park.
Duke (38-12, 17-9 ACC) trailed 8-1 after North Carolina (34-16, 19-8 ACC) plated three in both the fourth and fifth frames. The Blue Devil bullpen kept the Tar Heels off the board the rest of the way and Jimmy Herron blasted a three-run homer in the fifth and drilled a two-run bomb in the ninth for the first multi-home run game of his standout career.
The Blue Devils brought the tying run to the plate with two outs after a Chris Proctor ninth-inning single, but UNC reliever Josh Hiatt got the final out to record his fourth save of the season.
All six Duke runs came via the home run as Griffin Conine belted his team-best 12th in the second.
“Our offensive approach was really pretty good,” said head coach Chris Pollard. “Jimmy Herron swung the bat great. We got really good productivity out of the top of the lineup. We hit a few balls on the screws and didn’t have anything to show for it.”
Duke seemed to capture momentum in the early going, getting off the field unscathed after a UNC second-inning leadoff triple then taking the lead on Griffin Conine’s solo shot in the bottom half.
But the Tar Heels would respond, using five two-out hits to score five combined runs over the third and fourth innings. A Cody Roberts’ two-out double started a two-run Tar Heel third. Three fourth-inning walks loaded the bases for Brandon Riley and Ike Freeman, who both singled to extend the lead.
“The ball game came down to not getting off the field in the third and fourth,” Pollard said. “We had opportunities to get off the field with no runs scoring in either one of those innings and we wound up giving up five. That was the difference in the ballgame.”
Starter Adam Laskey (6-4) could not escape the fourth in the loss. Laskey was tagged for five runs on five hits. He walked five and struck out three.
The Tar Heels left 20 runners on base over the first two contests, but went 6-for-16 with runners in scoring position Sunday to take the lead.
Three straight fifth-inning doubles extended the North Carolina lead before Herron’s three-run homer in fifth cut the deficit, 8-4.
Stinson struck out six, allowed one hit and did not walk a batter to allow the Blue Devils a chance to rally.
“Ton of credit to Graeme Stinson and Matt Dockman,” Pollard added. “They pitched great. They kept us in the ballgame. Kept us in a position where we were able to get the tying run to the plate in the bottom of the ninth.”
UNC starter Tyler Baum (4-1) allowed four runs on five hits in five innings to earn the win.
Duke heads to Liberty Tuesday, May 15 for its final midweek matchup of the 2018 season. The Blue Devils and the Flames get underway at 6 p.m., on Flames TV.