DURHAM, N.C. – Christopher Manno struck out nine batters over five innings and combined with three other Blue Devils for a two-hit shutout to lead Duke to a 10-0 win over UNC Greensboro Wednesday afternoon at Jack Coombs Field.
Manno (3-0) fanned nine hitters for the second straight start while giving up just one hit and three walks over five scoreless innings. UNC Greensboro (19-12, 5-4 SoCon) put just seven balls in play against the Blue Devil southpaw, two of which were botched sacrifice bunts while two others were popups in foul territory. The performance marked the third time this season that Manno struck out at least nine batters in a single game and improved his strikeout average to 13.04 punchouts per nine innings.
Following Manno’s scoreless outing, freshmen John Bunder and Ryan Knott took over in relief to retire nine straight through the eighth inning before senior Ron Causey finished the game with a scoreless ninth to lock up the win. From the fourth through the eighth inning, Manno, Bunder and Knott combined to retire 14 straight batters before UNC Greensboro’s three hitter Greg Feltes broke the streak with a single in the ninth.
Offensively, four Blue Devils recorded multi-hit days with Alex Hassan, Matt Williams and Ryan McCurdy each adding a pair of RBI to their 2008 resume. Hassan, McCurdy and Jeremy Gould each collected multiple hits, as did freshman shortstop Jake Lemmerman, who also scored twice.
Blue Devil leadoff batter Gabriel Saade drew three walks and scored twice, including one run on a double steal from third base. Sophomore outfielder Michael Ghizzoni matched Saade with two runs, while designated hitter Jonathan Nicolla went 1-for-3 with a double, run and RBI.
With the win, Duke (22-10, 4-10 ACC) improves to 18-0 against non-conference opponents this season.
Feltes and Ricky Orton accounted for the only hits for UNC Greensboro. The Spartans used six pitchers in the game, including starter Alex Shelton (3-2) who took the loss after giving up six hits and two earned runs over three innings. Warren Slack and Rob Gilliam were the only two UNC Greensboro pitchers to not give up runs, as the two combined for scoreless eighth and ninth innings.
Manno opened the game in his usual fashion, striking out the first two hitters before forcing Feltes to foul out to first base on an 0-2 count. With the two punchouts, Manno has struck at least two batters in the first inning in four of his six starts while chalking up at least one first-inning strikeout in every game.
After cruising through the first, Manno briefly struggled with his control in the second, but regained his form just in time to strike out consecutive batters to escape a one-out, bases-loaded jam. Orton started the inning with a base hit up the middle and was soon joined on the base paths by Corey Overholtzer and Pedro Leon who drew consecutive walks. Manno was on the verge of walking in a run after falling behind in the count 2-0 to Deleo, but battled back to a full count before fanning the UNC Greensboro catcher for the second out. He then fired a first-pitch ball to Drew Gehringer, but came back with three straight strikes for his third strikeout of the inning.
Manno’s offense rewarded him with a pair of runs in the bottom of the second thanks to a two-out, two-RBI double by Hassan. Hassan’s two-bagger landed on the warning track in left-center field and scored Lemmerman and Kyle Kreick who opened the inning with hard-hit singles to left and right field.
Manno struck out two more to start the third before giving up a walk to Feltes after losing him in a 3-2 count. That brought Orton to the plate with a single already under his belt, which became an even more dangerous situation after Feltes stole second to put himself in scoring position. Manno was unphased, however, as he fanned the Spartans’ top run producer with a 2-2 breaking ball.
Ray Quinones reached base on a Blue Devil throwing error to start the fourth, but Manno quickly erased the threat by picking him off at first. The pickoff was the second of the season for the lefty, who got number two with ease after Kreick took the throw at first and fired to Saade who made the tag in the base path.
After UNC Greensboro changed pitchers in the fourth, Duke put up two more runs on a sac fly from Williams and a perfectly-executed two-out double steal pulled off Hassan and Saade. Ghizzoni started the rally by drawing a walk over an at bat in which he saw eight pitches, two of which he fouled off with two strikes. Saade followed suit, falling behind 0-2 before fouling off the next pitch and watching the next four to draw a walk, including a wild pitch ball two that allowed Ghizzoni to reach second. That brought up Hassan, who loaded the bases after dropping a bloop single into right field. Williams then stepped in with the bases loaded and drove in Ghizzoni with a sacrifice fly ball that scored Ghizzoni and moved Saade over to third. With Saade and Hassan at the corners with two outs, the sophomore duo squeezed out one more run in the inning when Hassan stole second, but stopped short of the bag when catcher Adam Deleo fired down to second in attempt to catch him stealing. Hassan’s stall was just long enough to draw the attention of second baseman Matt Gaski, who made a step towards Hassan before noticing Saade, who had already taken off for home. Gaski opted to try and throw out Saade at the plate, but his throw was too late as Saade was able to slide into home uncontested.
Manno was lifted at the start of the sixth, handing a 4-0 lead over to Bunder after firing 79 pitches over five shutout innings. Bunder filled in nicely, retiring UNC Greensboro’s two, three and four hitters on just 12 pitches. He received some defensive help from Hassan, who ran down a pair of deep fly balls on the warning track in center field.
Duke gave Bunder an even bigger cushion in the bottom of the sixth after knocking out four hits on the way to six runs and a 10-0 lead. The Blue Devils batted around in the inning, which was extended on a pair of throwing errors by Gaski at shortstop. The errors led to five unearned runs in what should have been a one-run inning. Ghizzoni scored his second run of the ballgame in the frame after Williams drove him in with his second consecutive sacrifice fly ball. After another single by Gould and the first error by Gaski that allowed Nicolla to reach and a run to score, McCurdy drove in two more with a bloop single to center field. UNC Greensboro then changed pitchers again, sending Matt Bjorkstrom to the mound, who gave up an infield single to Lemmerman before balking in the final run of the inning.
Bunder retired the side in order once more in the top of the seventh to run his scoreless inning streak to four straight innings over his last two outings. After holding the lead intact, he handed the ball to Knott who continued the retired batter streak, using just eight pitches to sit down the side in the eighth. From the fourth through the eighth innings, Manno, Bunder and Knott combined to retire 14 straight batters.
Causey came in to close out the game against the heart of the UNC Greensboro lineup in the ninth. The senior right-hander gave up a single to Feltes, but got the tough out by forcing Orton to fly out before dishing out another fly ball to Hassan to end the game. Duke’s senior right-hander has yet to give up an earned run through four innings of work this season while surrendering just four hits in his four appearances.
Duke will head to Raleigh, N.C., this weekend to take on N.C. State in a three-game ACC series in what will be the first meeting between the two teams since 2005. The series will open at 6:30 p.m. on Friday, April 11 at Doak Field with ensuing contests at 6:30 p.m. on Saturday and 1:30 p.m. on Sunday.