DURHAM, N.C. – Angelo LaBruna scored the tying and go-ahead runs, and Marcus Stroman threw two no-hit innings out of the bullpen for his first save of the season as Duke took down No. 6 Georgia Tech 4-3 on Saturday afternoon at Durham Bulls Athletic Park.
Thanks to a dominant bullpen performance from reliever Ben Grisz and Stroman, the Blue Devils (16-13, 3-8 ACC) handed the Yellow Jackets (22-6, 10-1 ACC) their first ACC loss of the season. Grisz (2-1) entered the game in the sixth inning and threw 1.1 scoreless frames before LaBruna scored the go-ahead run on a passed ball in the seventh inning.
With a one-run lead in hand, Duke then went to Stroman, who struck out five of the eight batters he faced while holding the Yellow Jackets hitless in the eighth and ninth innings. Georgia Tech entered the series ranked sixth nationally with a .330 batting average, but managed just one hit over the final 3.1 innings off of Grisz and Stroman.
LaBruna was the catalyst of a pair of Duke rallies, leading off the fifth inning with a base hit and scoring from second base on an RBI single from Anthony D'Alessandro to tie the game at 3-3. In his next at bat, he opened the seventh inning with another single, stole second, moved to third on a sacrifice bunt and then scored on a passed ball to put Duke ahead 4-3.
A freshman shortstop, LaBruna was also a key component of a defensive effort that saw Duke play errorless baseball that saved several runs from scoring throughout the game. With only two errors all season, LaBruna leads all ACC shortstops with a .984 fielding percentage.
The Blue Devils touched up Georgia Tech starter Jed Bradley for three runs – two earned – on seven hits over his six innings before the Yellow Jackets called on ace reliever Luke Bard (1-1) in the seventh with the game tied at 3-3. LaBruna welcomed Bard to the game with his second single of the day and then capitalized on a passed ball that slipped by catcher Zane Evans to give him a free pass to the plate.
The Blue Devils were aggressive on the base paths early and used the strategy to take a 1-0 lead. With two outs in the third inning, junior Will Piwnica-Worms blooped a fly ball into right field that he legged out for a double. He then took off for third on the next pitch and drew a throw from Evans, which short-hopped third baseman Matt Skole and skipped into left field to give Piwnica-Worms an easy path to the plate for the first run of the game.
Duke starter Dennis O'Grady battled and stranded four base runners over his first four innings, but finally gave way to the Georgia Tech bats in the top of the fifth. The Yellow Jackets used three doubles from Paul Kronenfeld, Sam Dove and Jacob Esch and an RBI single from Jake Davies to score three runs in the inning and claim a 3-2 lead.
The Blue Devils struck right back, however, and tied the game on a two-out RBI single by D’Alessandro in the bottom of the fifth. With LaBruna on second base following a leadoff single and a sacrifice bunt from freshman catcher Mike Rosenfeld, D’Alessandro laced a line drive that fell right in front of Georgia Tech right fielder Daniel Palka. Duke head coach Sean McNally waved LaBruna around third and toward the plate where he slid just under Evans’ tag to score the go-ahead run despite a near-perfect throw from Palka.
Grisz, who recorded the final out of the sixth inning in relief of O’Grady, then took the mound in the seventh and retired the side in order to keep Duke’s one-run lead intact. Stroman then took the mound in the eighth, shifting from second base where he played errorless defense for the first seven innings, and struck out four batters in the eighth inning. He then took the mound again in the ninth and retired the side in order to preserve the victory.
With the series tied at 1-1, Duke and Georgia Tech will play for the series on Sunday, April 3, at 1 p.m. at Durham Bulls Athletic Park. Georgia Tech will start right-hander Buck Farmer (4-1, 2.15 ERA), while Duke has not yet announced a starter.