DURHAM, N.C. – A five-run fifth helped Duke take down North Carolina Central, 8-2, in the Blue Devils’ home opener Wednesday evening at the Durham Bulls Athletic Park. Duke (2-2, 0-0 ACC) trailed 1-0 after four before two-out RBI hits from Joey Loperfido and Jimmy Herron led to the big inning.
After stranding eight runners the first four frames, Duke used four hits, two walks and an error to plate five runs. An NCCU (2-2, 0-0 MEAC) fielding error with two outs and the bases loaded extended the fifth inning, allowing Loperfido to lift a two-run double to left before Herron sliced an RBI single through the left side.
“I thought [our team] looked a little bit tight over the weekend with runners in scoring position,” said head coach Chris Pollard. “Sometimes there’s a compounding effect there where you’re trying and trying and don’t get it done. Then you try harder and don’t get it done and guys start to press a little bit. Told our guys in the fifth, we just needed to relax and stay with our approach. Then we were able to put a crooked number up there in the fifth.”
Duke’s starting first baseman as a freshman, Loperfido’s first career double made it a 4-1 game in the fifth. Loperfido reached base in four of his five plate appearances, going 2-for-3 with a double, a walk, an HBP, three RBI and two stolen bases.
“If you go back all the way to September, [Loperfido’s] on base percentage and his OPS are amongst the highest on our team,” Pollard said. “He’s pretty adept at getting on base and he will drive the baseball hard. When he does get on base, he can make things happen.”
Herron also reached base four times in the game, adding a fourth-inning double off the Blue Monster to go along with two walks. Center fielder Kennie Taylor roped a pair of doubles, including the leadoff hit to ignite Duke’s big fifth inning.
After NCCU loaded the bases with nobody out to start the sixth, freshman Matt Dockman came in and got the Blue Devils out of the jam with only one run scoring. Beginning with Dockman, the Duke bullpen retired nine straight NCCU batters. Sophomore Matt Mervis and graduate student Ethan DeCaster pitched a 1-2-3 seventh and eighth, respectively. Senior Jack Labosky then tossed a scoreless ninth, inducing a 5-4-3 double play to end the ballgame.
“I thought [the bullpen was] lights out,” Pollard added. “Hunter [Davis] made a really good adjustment after coming in and not having great feel. Can’t say enough of the job Matt Dockman did. Young man is a freshman. He has two career appearances and both times I brought him in with the bases loaded and nobody out. He’s answered the call very well in both of those situations. Behind him, Mervis DeCaster and Labosky were really, really good.”
NCCU’s Kameron Winburn (0-1) took the loss, surrendering one run in 0.1 innings of work. Duke totaled nine hits and seven walks against the Eagles while 11 NCCU pitchers combined to hit six Blue Devil batters.
Wednesday’s opener marked the beginning of a stretch with 17 Duke home games over the next 29 days. The Blue Devils return to the DBAP Friday-Sunday, Feb. 23-25 to take on Patriot League foe Bucknell on ACC Network Extra.