DURHAM, N.C. – Dennis O'Grady scattered three hits over six scoreless innings while Jonathan Nicolla pounded a pair of two-RBI doubles to lead Duke to a 9-0 win over Alabama A&M Wednesday afternoon at Jack Coombs Field.
In his first career start, O’Grady (1-0) gave up just three hits and struck out five, while facing just two batters over the minimum in his six innings of work. The freshman right hander retired the first nine batters he faced and needed just 64 pitches to lock up his first collegiate win. The appearance was the second of the season for the Floral Park, N.Y., native and kept his ERA at 0.00 through eight total innings of work.
Duke’s offense, led by Nicolla, gave O’Grady a five-run cushion before he exited after the sixth inning. A senior designated hitter, Nicolla drove in four of Duke’s eventual nine runs on a pair of RBI doubles which were his second and third extra base hits of the season. Nicolla finished 2-for-4 on the day.
Senior Kyle Kreick, junior Tim Sherlock and sophomore Alex Hassan each contributed two runs and an RBI for Duke (6-0), while Nate Freiman, Gabriel Saade and Jake Lemmerman also crossed the plate. Hassan recorded a pair of hits for the fourth time this season, while both he and Freiman extended their hitting streaks to six games.
Duke’s bullpen continued to churn out quality innings, as Kyle Butler, Jeremy Gould and Ron Causey each came in to contribute a scoreless inning in relief on the way to the 9-0 shutout. Butler recorded a hitless seventh inning in his second appearance of the season, while Gould and Causey each held the Bulldogs to a single hit. Gould also notched his first pickoff of the season.
Shortstop Manny Siaca went 2-for-4 for Alabama A&M (0-5), while three other Bulldogs also knocked out hits. Right fielder Marcus Spencer came off the bench to go 1-for-2 with a double, which was the first extra base hit of the series for Alabama A&M.
Duke took an early lead in the bottom of the first inning after a two-out rally that featured back-to-back RBI base knocks from Sherlock and Nicolla put Duke on top 3-0. Freiman started the rally by drawing a walk and stealing second, while Sherlock drove him in with a base hit down the right field line. Kreick also drew a walk before Sherlock’s single and advanced to third on the base hit. Nicolla then came to the plate and crushed a 2-0 fastball to the warning track in center field to drive in Kreick and Sherlock. The inning ended on the same play, however, when Alabama A&M center fielder Kency Duarte hooked up with second baseman Jerome Brown to gun down Nicolla trying to stretch his double into a triple.
Freshman Dennis O'Grady was nearly untouchable on the mound for Duke, retiring six straight batters on just 15 pitches over the first two innings. Grady struck out a pair through the first two innings while also inducing four groundouts.
Duke scored another run in the bottom of the second without sending a ball out of the infield. Three walks to the first four batters loaded the bases with one out, and Hassan capitalized on the opportunity with a fielder’s choice ground ball that sent in Lemmerman from third base. An intentional walk to Freiman followed to load the bases again, but Bulldog pitcher Mike Bonds regained his focus to end the inning with a strikeout.
O’Grady kept cruising through the fourth inning to maintain a 4-0 Duke lead. After retiring his first nine batters faced, O’Grady gave up his first hit to Siaca after the Bulldog leadoff man beat out a dribbler to the left side of the infield. The hit was quickly negated, however, as another ground ball back to the mound followed, which O’Grady fielded and fired to second base to start a base-clearing double play. Turner Washington then slapped a grounder to the left side, which Lemmerman fielded in the hole but could not get to first in time for the out. The infield single did no harm, however, as O’Grady forced an infield popup to end the inning.
The Blue Devils chained together three straight hits to pick up another run in the bottom half of the fourth to go ahead 5-0. The run came off of Alabama A&M right hander Grant Mattix, who relieved Bonds at the start of the inning. Hassan started the rally with a base knock through the left side while Freiman followed with another single up the middle. Kreick then drove Bonds’ 1-1 offering to deep right field to send Hassan in from second base. With just one out on the board and runners at second and third, Duke threatened to blow the game open, but Alabama A&M’s defense allowed Mattix to escape the inning with minimal damage. After intentionally walking Sherlock to load the bases, Mattix forced a double play ground ball to get out of the inning with just one run allowed.
O’Grady turned in another three-up, three-down inning in the fifth, but encountered his first jam in the sixth inning. After giving up a leadoff double to Spencer, O’Grady hit Jerome Brown with a pitch to put two runners on with no outs. O’Grady helped himself out, however, by fielding a ground ball hit by Siaca and converting it into Duke’s second double play of the game. Now with two outs and a runner on third, O’Grady forced Duarte to fly out to Hassan in center field to escape the inning unharmed.
Nicolla knocked his second double of the game in the sixth inning to drive in two more runs and cap a four-run Blue Devil rally. The inning got started after Saade drew a leadoff walk and moved to third on a base hit to right field. A balk then sent Saade across the plate and Hassan to second, while an ensuing Alabama A&M fielding error allowed Hassan to score and Kreick to reach first base. Sherlock then took an intentional walk to set the table for Nicolla, who mashed a 3-2 fastball to opposite field to send in both runners for a 9-0 Duke lead.
Butler took over on the mound for Duke to start the seventh and retired three straight batters, including an inning-ending strikeout. Through two appearances and three innings of work, the former walk-on owns a 0.00 ERA and has given up just one hit and struck out three.
Gould followed Butler on the mound to start the eighth and quickly took Duke into the final inning after facing just three batters. The southpaw surrendered a base hit to his first batter, but caught the runner sleeping shortly thereafter and picked him off at first base. After a pair of back-to-back flyouts ended the inning, Causey toed the rubber in the ninth and closed out the Blue Devil victory for the second time this season. Causey surrendered just one hit, which was his first allowed of the season.
Duke will play a four-game series this Saturday and Sunday, March 1-2, at Jack Coombs Field against Columbia. The teams will open with a double header on Saturday at noon and will follow with another twinbill on Sunday at the same time. After a mid-week meeting with Valparaiso on Wednesday, Duke will welcome ACC foe and perennial powerhouse North Carolina to Jack Coombs Field on March 7-9.