ATLANTA, Ga. -- Andrew Robinson came out of the bullpen to held Duke scoreless over the last four innings and preserve a 5-4 lead as 17th-ranked Georgia Tech defeated Duke Friday evening at Russ Chandler Stadium.
Duke (18-4, 3-4 ACC) managed five hits and four runs in five innings off of Georgia Tech ace David Duncan (3-0) before Robinson took over in the sixth and shut down the Blue Devils to pick up his first save of the season. Robinson allowed just two hits and walked none while striking out three.
Blue Devil starter Andrew Wolcott (2-1) was credited with his first loss of the season, despite giving up just two earned runs over his six innings of work. The three unearned runs Georgia Tech scored on his watch counted just the same, however, and were just enough to outscore the Blue Devils. Wolcott managed to fan a season-high six Georgia Tech hitters while walking two and scattering six hits.
A four-run third inning was Duke’s downfall, as Georgia Tech (16-4, 4-3 ACC) took advantage of three fielding errors to erase a 2-1 deficit and take a lead that lasted for the remainder of the game. Duke entered the contest with an ACC-leading .983 fielding percentage before committing the errors, which were more than the Blue Devils have made in an entire game to this point in the season.
For the first time in his four starts this season, Wolcott did not exit with the lead, handing the ball to reliever Michael Ness, who gave up just one hit over the final two innings. Ness struck out a pair and lowered his ERA to 1.93 through a team-leading nine relief appearances on the season.
Junior catcher Matt Williams drove in a pair of runs for Duke with a two-run double in the third inning. Center fielder Alex Hassan and left fielder Jeremy Gould also contributed a hit and an RBI, while right fielder Tim Sherlock went 2-for-4.
It took Georgia Tech just two at bats to take the first lead of the game after freshman center fielder Jeff Rowland legged out a leadoff triple to set up No. 2 hitter Thomas Nichols for a sacrifice fly ball to left field. Following Nichols’s sac fly, Wolcott settled down and struck out Georgia Tech cleanup hitter Derek Dietrich before forcing a ground ball to end the inning.
After the one-run opener, Wolcott cruised through the second, retiring the side in order with back-to-back strikeouts, including the 90th K of the junior right-hander’s career.
Williams erased the 1-0 deficit and put Duke ahead 2-1 with a two-out double in the third that drove in a pair of Blue Devils. Williams’ clutch two-bagger, his fifth of the season, sent in freshman shortstop Jake Lemmerman and third baseman Ryan McCurdy, who strung together consecutive singles to lead off the inning. The runners were almost left stranded on base after Duncan issued a pair of strikeouts following the leadoff hits, but Williams came through on a 2-2 count to drive the next offering to the warning track in right-center field.
Duke’s lead did not last long, however, as three Blue Devil fielding errors and consecutive RBI singles led to four Georgia Tech runs in the third and a 5-2 Yellow Jacket lead. Only one run was earned in the inning as Wolcott gave up just two hits in the frame. The rally started when Rowland drew a walk and advanced to third on a Nichols ground ball to the right side that Duke mishandled for an error. The play put runners at the corners, setting up Charlie Blackmon for an RBI ground ball that resulted in an infield single after the Georgia Tech outfielder beat the throw to first. Dietrich then followed with another single up the middle to send in Nichols from second, while another Blue Devil fielding error allowed Blackmon to score from third. No. 6 hitter Chris House then ripped a ground ball to the left side that Duke once again mishandled and allowed to skip into the outfield, allowing Dietrich to cross the plate for the fourth run of the inning.
Despite the four-run rally, Wolcott kept his composure in the fourth and retired the side with just 10 pitches. Wolcott would allow three more hits over his final three innings, but held the Yellow Jackets scoreless to keep Duke in the game.
Duncan had a temporary lapse of control in the fifth, and Duke took advantage to score two runs with two outs on the board. Saade and Williams started the rally by drawing consecutive two-out walks before Hassan singled up the middle to send in Saade from second. Gould then drove in Williams from second with an RBI double that was less than two feet from clearing the top of the left field fence. Hassan moved to third to set up another scoring opportunity for Duke, but Duncan regained his control just in time to end the inning with a strikeout.
Duncan handed the ball to Robinson to start the sixth, and the sophomore right-hander retired the side on just nine pitches in his first inning of work. The three-up, three-down inning signaled the end for Duke, as Duncan allowed just two hits from the seventh through the ninth to keep Duke’s offense at bay.
After allowing Wolcott to pitch through a scoreless sixth, Ness took the mound for Duke at the start of the seventh. The sophomore right-hander gave up a leadoff infield single, but settled down to retire the next three in a scoreless seventh. He came out in the eighth in the same fashion, retiring the side in order.
After managing just one hit between the seventh and eighth innings, Duke finally put something together in the ninth, but couldn’t capitalize as Robinson shut down the scoring opportunity with his third strikeout of the game. After the first two Blue Devil batters recorded consecutive outs, Sherlock started the would-be rally with a single through the right side that came on a 3-2 count. Pinch-runner John Bunder then stepped in on the base paths for Sherlock and advanced to second base on a wild pitch shortly thereafter. With Bunder on second and two outs on the board, Saade stepped to the plate with a pair of walk-off hits already under his belt this season. Robinson proved too much for the Blue Devil leadoff man, however, as he dished out a game-ending strikeout to clinch the victory.
The Blue Devils and Yellow Jackets will continue the three-game road series with a 2 p.m. meeting on Saturday, March 22 at Russ Chandler Stadium. Sophomore Will Currier (2-2, 4.95 ERA) will start for Duke opposite Ramblin’ Wreck right-hander Eddie Burns (2-1, 2.38 ERA). The teams will then conclude the series at 1 p.m. on Sunday.