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Duke Puts ACC Tourney Berth On The Line This Weekend Against Wake Forest
Courtesy: Duke Sports Information
Release: 05/08/2008
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First baseman Nate Freiman brings a 15-game hitting streak into this weekend's series against Wake Forest. Freiman leads Duke with a .389 average, nine home runs and 42 RBI.
Photo Courtesy: Duke Photography
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DURHAM, N.C. – With a slim lead over Wake Forest in the ACC standings, the Duke baseball team will head to Winston-Salem, N.C., on May 9-11 for a pivotal conference series against the Demon Deacons that features two teams fighting for the final berth to the 2008 ACC Tournament.

The Blue Devils will also have the honor of playing the Deacs in their final ACC series at Hooks Stadium, beginning with a 3 p.m. meeting on Friday and a pair of 1 p.m. contests on Saturday and Sunday.

Currently occupying the eighth spot in the ACC standings, Duke (34-14-1, 8-14-1 ACC) has a half game lead over Wake Forest (19-27, 8-15 ACC) for the final spot in the eight-team field at the ACC Tournament in Jacksonville, Fla., on May 21-25. The Blue Devils’ postseason fate lies in their hands with only two conference series remaining, including this weekend’s three-game set at Wake Forest and the conference finale next weekend at Virginia Tech.

The Blue Devils have a shot to make the conference tournament for the first time since 2005, which was the year before the tournament format switched to an eight-team round robin. Since the switch in 2006, Duke has not been included in the top eight squads in the final conference standings.

That has changed this season, however, as Duke has surpassed 30 victories for the first time since 1998. Included in Duke’s 34 overall wins are upsets over No. 2 North Carolina and No. 17 Georgia Tech and a pair of victories over No. 16 Virginia.

Duke’s success has been tied to solid defense and pitching, an approach that has been initiated by third year head coach Sean McNally and assistants Sean Snedeker, Matthew Boggs and Jonathan Anderson. Under their direction, Duke ranks first in the nation in fielding percentage and among the top 15 in all of Division I in earned run average and walks allowed per nine innings. The fundamental approach has Duke within five victories of matching the school’s single season win record of 39, which was reached twice in 1996 and 1993.

Duke’s starting weekend trio of Andrew Wolcott, Christopher Manno and Jonathan Foreman have had much to do with Duke’s recent success, as the three Blue Devils have put together a combined ERA of 2.44 over the last two ACC series. All three have an ERA under 3.75, including Foreman whose 1.68 earned run average is the lowest in the ACC and the eighth lowest in the country. Manno boasts a 2.61 ERA and has been nothing short of dominant since joining the weekend rotation, picking up wins in both of his conference starts along with a 1.32 ERA and 19 strikeouts over nearly 14 innings of work. Wolcott, meanwhile, has been one of the team’s most reliable options all season, leading Duke with five quality starts and going no less than five innings in each of his 10 appearances.

Duke also boasts one of the best bullpens in the ACC, as Blue Devils relievers have combined for a 15-2 record, 11 saves and a 2.99 ERA. The Blue Devil pen has blown just three saves this season, only to hawk wins in two of those outings. Anchored by the arms of sophomores Alex Hassan and Michael Ness and senior Ryan Perry, the bullpen is holding opposing hitters to a .251 batting average. Thanks to that group, Duke has not lost a game when holding a lead after the fifth inning.

Duke’s offense has provided plenty of run support, averaging over seven runs per game to rank among the top 50 in the nation in scoring. First baseman Nate Freiman leads the group with 42 RBI, nine home runs and a .389 average, while Alex Hassan, Matt Williams, Jeremy Gould and Gabriel Saade make up the rest of the top half of a very potent Duke lineup.  

Scouting Wake Forest
Wake Forest’s offense, anchored by one of the top prospects in the country in corner infielder Allan Dykstra, is one of the better units in the ACC, but has had a difficult time compensating for a pitching staff that has a collective ERA of 8.04.

The Demon Deacons are batting .280 as a team with 40 home runs, 14 of which have come from Dykstra. The 6-5, 240 pound junior not only possesses one of the most powerful bats in the country, but has great plate discipline as evidenced by his ACC-leading 56 walks. Dykstra has been a one-man show for Wake Forest, leading the team in average, runs, RBI and home runs. He has also been reliable on the defensive end at first and third base, putting together a .974 fielding percentage.

Infielder Dustin Hood has also been a source of productive at bats, putting together a .326 average on 59 hits to tie teammate Willy Fox for the most base knocks in the lineup. Of Fox’ 59 hits, five have left the park while 15 total have gone for extra bases.

Wake Forest will use a weekend rotation of three right handers, including Ben Hunter (2-5, 5.45 ERA) on Friday, Charlie Mellies (2-5, 6.22 ERA) on Saturday and converted reliever Brad Kledzik (1-4, 8.10) on Sunday. 

On Deck For The Blue Devils
Following the three-game set with Wake Forest, Duke will return to Jack Coombs Field for its final home game on Tuesday, May 13 against Campbell. The home finale will begin at 7 p.m. shortly after Duke honors its senior class of Ron Causey, Kyle Kreick, Jonathan Nicolla and Ryan Perry for Senior Day.

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