DURHAM, N.C. – Following a pair of double-digit outbursts during the week, the Duke baseball team will look to ride a hot streak into this weekend’s three-game set against Clemson that will begin with a 7 p.m. contest on Friday, April 18.
All three games will be broadcast on Duke Inside Access with Chris Hooks providing the play-by-play and commentary. Fans can listen to the broadcast by visiting the Duke Inside Access page under the “Fan Zone” link on www.GoDuke.com.
Duke (26-12, 5-12 ACC) enters the game on a three-game winning streak after sweeping a double header against N.C. Central on Tuesday and stomping Campbell 16-2 on Wednesday. The Blue Devils batted .416 with 10 doubles and five home runs over the three-game span on the way to outscoring the Eagles and fighting Camels 46-4.
The sudden offensive boost has much to do with the return of junior first baseman Nate Freiman to the starting lineup. The 6-8, 240 pound Freiman missed nearly a month of competition after being sidelined with an injury, but returned in the series against N.C. State. Since rejoining the team, Freiman has raked a .500 batting average with 14 RBI, two home runs and five doubles with multiple hits in each of his last four games. With Freiman in the lineup, Duke is 16-4 with a .329 batting average and averages just under nine runs per game. In the 18 games without Freiman, Duke was 10-8 with a .267 average and an average of 5.6 runs per game.
While Freiman’s return has certainly bolstered the Blue Devil offense, his performance has overshadowed the consistent production of junior catcher Matt Williams and sophomores Alex Hassan, Jeremy Gould and Gabriel Saade. All four Blue Devils are hitting over .300 on the season with Hassan and Gould each batting over .350. Hassan ranks among the top 10 in the ACC with a .379 average and 55 hits while also sitting atop the ACC leader board with 41 runs and 13 doubles. The sophomore center fielder also collected his team-leading 17th multiple-hit outing on Wednesday against Campbell and comes into the weekend’s contests with at least one run in each of his last six games.
Gould, meanwhile, continues to be Duke’s top RBI contributor with a team-leading 33 batted in in his first season as an everyday starter. The sophomore left fielder has also topped 50 hits this season and recently picked up the third and fourth homers of his career. He is tied with Saade for the second-most home runs on the team as each has hammered four this season to trail Freiman’s five long balls. Saade has a firm hold on the team’s stolen base lead, however, after swiping his 15th bag in his 16th attempt of the season on Wednesday. In addition to his power and speed, Saade’s value also lies in his ability to get on base. The sophomore second baseman boasts a .409 on base percentage, aided by a team-leading 23 walks and 40 base hits. He has reached base safely in all but one game this season.
Williams has also been on a tear of late and brings a seven-game hitting streak into Friday’s opener. He is coming off a two-double, three-run game against Campbell that raised his batting average to .336. He has also emerged as one of the top backstops in the ACC, committing just one error with six passed balls all season. He has one of the ACC’s best arms behind the plate, as evidenced by his 13 runners caught stealing on the season which is the third-most in the ACC.
Williams’ current seven-game tear is second on the team only to senior Jonathan Nicolla, who has hit safely in each of his last eight games to raise his batting average to .305 on the season. Additionally, he has scored at least two runs in each of the last four games for a total of nine during that span.
Despite all the recent run support, Duke’s pitching staff has provided the same consistency that has led the group to the 19th-lowest team ERA in the nation at 3.51 on the year. Anchored by veteran starter Andrew Wolcott (3-2) and a plethora of solid relievers, the Blue Devil pitching staff has held opponents to a .255 average while surrendering just 108 walks on the season. Through 333 innings, that averages out to just 2.84 free passes per game, which is the 17th-lowest average in the country.
In the role of Friday starter for the full season, Wolcott has consistently provided quality outings for his team while emerging as one of the most reliable weekend starters in the conference. With the seventh-lowest overall ERA in the ACC, Wolcott has been just as efficient against conference opponents, compiling a mark of 3.31 against ACC foes. He has given up more than three runs just once in his eight starts this season, including a combined two runs over his last 11 innings.
For the second straight weekend, Duke will employ a different weekend rotation as sophomore left-hander Christopher Manno will take the ball on Saturday for his first weekend start. The 6-1, 160 pound lefty has certainly earned the promotion after going 3-0 with a 3.41 ERA and an average of 13.4 strikeouts per game in the role of Duke’s first mid-week starter. With an arsenal of four pitches and a fastball in the high 80’s, Manno has struck out 47 hitters through 31.2 innings of work while allowing just 12 walks on the season.
Sunday’s starter for Duke has yet to be determined.
Scouting The Tigers
Clemson (18-19, 6-12 ACC) enters the game hoping to break an 11-game slide after dropping a pair of mid-week matchups to Western Carolina and 10th-ranked South Carolina. The Tigers had previously dropped all three games to North Carolina last weekend after being swept by second-ranked Miami in the previous series.
Despite the recent slide, Clemson still boasts one of the top weekend tandems in the ACC. Redshirt-freshman Graham Stoneburner and sophomore D.J. Mitchell have combined to become a formidable 1-2 punch for the Tigers, as the two have combined for a 7-4 record with ERAs under the 3.20 mark. Stoneburner, who will start Saturday’s game, leads the team with a 4-1 record while Mitchell comes in at 3-3 and averaging nearly nine strikeouts per game.
Clemson has also found a solid back-end reliever among their bullpen in the form of junior right-hander Matt Vaughn. A 6-3, 215 pound native of Summerville, S.C., Vaughn has racked up eight saves on the season along with 23 strikeouts in 22.0 innings of work.
Offensively, Clemson is led by sophomore Ben Paulsen, who is putting together a breakout campaign in his second season. As the team’s starting first baseman, Paulsen leads the team with a .328 batting average and 10 home runs while also crossing the plate a team-leading 29 times. Catcher Doug Hogan has also provided some pop in the lineup, as the senior backstop leads the team with 37 RBI on nine home runs and a team-high 12 doubles.
The Series With Clemson
Clemson leads Duke 114-60-1 in the all-time series, which began in 1904. Duke’s last win over the Tigers was a 2-1 triumph on May 21, 2004. Since then, Clemson has rattled off 10 straight victories, including three straight three-game sweeps. Clemson has won the last nine series following a two game to one win for the Blue Devils in 1998. Over the past 10 seasons, Clemson is 25-5 against the Blue Devils, including a 12-3 mark at Jack Coombs Field.
On Deck For The Blue Devils
Following the three-game set with the Tigers, Duke will open an in-state road trip during the week with visits to UNC Greensboro on Tuesday, April 22 and another at Davidson on Wednesday. The contest with UNC Greensboro will begin at 6 p.m., while the ensuing matchup with Davidson will start at 7 p.m. Duke will then return home for a three-game series against Maryland.