DURHAM, N.C. – Dan Grovatt accounted for six runs and sparked a seven-run seventh inning rally that led No. 14 Virginia to an 11-7 win over Duke Saturday evening at the Durham Bulls Athletic Park. With the win, Virginia clinches a berth to the ACC Championship game on Sunday where the Cavaliers will face No. 7 Florida State at 1 p.m. for the 2009 ACC Title.
Duke (35-24) led Virginia 4-2 heading into the seventh inning, but gave way to the seven-run rally that featured five unearned runs and one of Grovatt’s three doubles in the game. Despite a three-run rally of their own in the eighth inning, the Blue Devils could not recover from the big inning and had their shot at an ACC Championship taken away by the Cavaliers (42-12-1).
The Cavaliers took advantage of a Duke fielding error in the seventh that gave them the window they needed to break the game open. Following the error, Virginia scored five unearned runs to increase their one-run lead to five runs at 9-4. Along with Grovatt’s rally-starting double, catcher Franco Valdes and second baseman Keith Werman each had two-run extra-base knocks to cap the rally.
The Blue Devils bounced back with a three-run eighth inning that featured three consecutive two-out doubles by Will Piwnica-Worms, Tim Sherlock and Marcus Jones, but were shut down by Virginia closer Kevin Arico in the bottom of the ninth inning.
Virginia’s big inning erased a second solid start by freshman Eric Pfisterer, who scattered four hits and two runs over five-plus innings. Pfisterer matched a career high with six strikeouts on 107 pitches before handing the ball over to Duke’s bullpen. Unfortunately for Pfisterer, the bullpen could not hold the lead as Virginia pounced seven hits over the remaining four innings to pick up the come-from-behind win.
Duke third baseman Ryan McCurdy provided an offensive spark for the Blue Devils out of the nine-hole, tagging two hits on the way to an RBI and a run. McCurdy’s first hit was a line-drive double off of the left field wall, while his second was a two-out single that put Duke on top 4-1 in the fourth inning. McCurdy’s double was his second of the ACC Tournament.
Duke had a chance to break the game open early after loading the bases with no outs in the third inning, but Virginia starter Robert Morey escaped unharmed with a strikeout and an inning-ending double play. After giving up walks to leadoff man Alex Hassan and three-hitter Nate Freiman and a single to catcher Matt Williams, Morey found himself surrounded by three Blue Devils on the base paths. He settled down just in time, however, and struck out cleanup hitter Jeremy Gould for the first out before getting shortstop Jake Lemmerman to hit into a 4-6-3 double play.
Pfisterer returned the favor to the Cavaliers in the top of the third inning by getting two-hitter Tyler Cannon to hit into a rally-killing double play. With men on first and second and one out, Cannon slapped a ground ball to third base that McCurdy gloved and fired around the horn for Duke’s 54th turn of the season. With 54 double plays on the season, Duke finished the tournament just one turn shy of tying the program’s single-season record. The double play also gave Pfisterer his third straight scoreless inning, keeping the game tied at 0‑0 heading into the bottom of the third.
After the double play, McCurdy turned around and started a third-inning rally with a leadoff double that banged off the Blue Monster in left field. McCurdy would score the first of three runs in the inning, all of which scored on defensive miscues by the Cavaliers. Two wild pitches moved McCurdy to third and then across the plate, the second of which came on a strikeout that should have ended the inning. Instead, Gould, who swung through a two-strike breaking ball, advanced to first base to join Williams, who drew a walk and moved up to second base. Morey then induced what should have been an inning-ending ground ball, but Cannon misfired his throw to second base and sent it into right field for an error that allowed Williams to score from second. Gould moved over to third on the play while Lemmerman reached first, setting up a double steal that allowed Gould to score Duke’s third run of the inning. Lemmerman, however, prolonged the inning by drawing a rundown and evading the tag to get back to first base safely. He would soon get caught on his second stolen base attempt of the inning by catcher John Hicks, who gunned him down at second base.
Virginia quickly struck back with an RBI single from Danny Hultzen in the top of the fourth that cut Duke’s lead to 3-1. Hultzen’s base knock came with two outs and plated Grovatt, who doubled off the left field wall to start the rally. Pfisterer was unphased, however, and struck out John Barr to end the inning. Pfisterer’s strikeout against Barr was his third of the inning and his career-high matching sixth of the game.
McCurdy came through again for Duke in the fourth with a clutch two-out, two-strike RBI single. With Piwnica-Worms on second base after he opened the inning with an infield single, McCurdy slapped a two-strike fastball through the left side that sent Piwnica-Worms around third and across the plate to reclaim a three-run lead for the Blue Devils.
After his RBI single, McCurdy flashed his glove once more and made a leaping grab on a hard-hit line drive in the fifth to save what would have been a run-scoring extra-base knock. Three-hitter Phil Gosselin came to the plate with two outs and a runner on first and crushed the liner to the left side where McCurdy timed it perfectly and leapt to make the grab over his head for the third out. The play stranded Virginia’s fifth runner of the game and kept Duke on top 4-1.
Duke’s defense could do little to pull back a home run by Grovatt in the top of the sixth, however, which cut Duke’s lead back to two runs at 4-2. The long ball signaled the end of the day for Pfisterer, who threw a career-high 107 pitches and gave up only two runs over his five-plus innings of work. Duke then called on reliever Will Currier, whose last appearance was also against the Cavaliers. Currier got through the rest of the inning without allowing a run to take the game into the bottom of the sixth with Duke still on top by two.
The Cavaliers also made a switch in the sixth, sending right-hander Tyler Wilson (7-3) to the mound to take over for Morey. Wilson retired the side to extend a streak of seven straight batters retired that Morey started back in the fourth inning and came in just before Virginia would broke the game open.
The Cavaliers finally broke out of their offensive slump in the seventh and scored seven runs – including five unearned runs – to take a 9-4 lead. The Cavaliers had only three hits in the inning and took advantage of two walks, two hit batters and a costly Duke fielding error. Currier fed Virginia a steady diet of breaking balls in the inning, which worked well enough to retire the first two batters he faced. He used one to strike out leadoff batter Jarrett Parker looking, but then ran into control issues and dished out two straight walks to put the tying run on first base. The second walk prompted Duke to bring in Michael Ness, who could not stop the momentum from swinging Virginia’s way. Grovatt welcomed him to the game with an RBI double to left field that scored Cannon and preceded two straight hit batters. Ness plunked Hicks to load the bases and then ran a fastball in on Steven Proscia that hit his elbow and forced in Gosselin to tie the game. Ness settled in and got Hultzen to roll a ground ball, but Freiman mishandled it and allowed the go-ahead run to score, giving the Cavaliers a 5-4 lead. That error became even more costly in the next at bat when Valdes slapped a two-run double down the left field line. Duke called on Dennis O'Grady to take over for Ness after that double, but Werman kept the rally going with a two-run triple to right-center field before O’Grady finally stopped the bleeding by inducing a groundout.
Wilson took the momentum and ran with it, making quick work of the Blue Devils in the bottom of the seventh. He gave up a two-out single to Hassan, but worked around it to strike out Williams for the third out. The hit to Hassan was the first knock that Wilson allowed in his first two scoreless innings of work.
The Cavaliers kept the rally going in the eighth with two doubles that increased the Virginia lead to 10-4. Grovatt mashed the second of those two-baggers off the left field wall for his third double of the game, sending in Cannon in the process.
The Blue Devils were far from done, however, as they mounted a two-out rally that featured three runs off of three consecutive doubles to trim the deficit to 10-7. Piwnica-Worms started the rally with a two-out double to left field that bounced off the glove of a charging Barr and then scored the second run of the inning on an ensuing two-base knock from Sherlock that two-hopped the wall in right-center field. Jones, pinch-hitting for Gabriel Saade, then destroyed Wilson’s 2-1 offering to left-center field where it hit two feet from the top of the 35-foot wall in left field. Jones’ double plated Sherlock, but would be the last hit of the inning as Wilson struck out McCurdy to end the rally.
Virginia quickly took back one of those runs in the top of the ninth after putting the first two batters on base against O’Grady. O’Grady responded by rolling a groundout for the first out, but was then relieved by Ryan Knott who inherited runners on second and third. Knott came in to strike out Parker and nearly got out of the jam unharmed, but followed with a wild pitch that plated Hultzen and gave Virginia an 11-7 lead. That wild pitch came back to hurt, as Knott got Cannon to ground out two pitches later to end the inning.
The loss eliminates Duke from contention for the ACC Championship. The Blue Devils will now await their NCAA Postseason fate, which will be announced on Monday, May 25, during the 12:30 p.m. selection show aired on ESPN.