O’Brien erased a 3-2 deficit with a two-run homer in the bottom of the third that put the Hokies (23-31, 6-23 ACC) ahead for the remainder of the game. With the lead in hand, Virginia Tech starter Justin Wright (4-0) held Duke to just one run over his final five innings to lock up the win. Wright pitched into the ninth inning before he was lifted after throwing his 110th pitch of the game. The freshman lefty yielded 12 hits and three walks to the Blue Devils, but stranded eight base runners.
The Blue Devils (36-18-1,
Freshman Jake Lemmerman accounted for two of Duke’s runs with a sacrifice fly in the second inning and an RBI single in the eighth. Outfielder Jeremy Gould also knocked a pair of hits to extend his hitting streak to 13 games, matching a career-long tear he put together earlier in the season.
Duke starter Christopher Manno (6-2) took the loss after surrendering five run on six hits over 5.1 innings. Manno increased his team-leading strikeout total to 80 on the season while walking just one batter.
Duke’s bats got started early and gave Manno an early 1-0 lead to protect thanks to a solo homer from Hassan in the first inning. Hassan’s bomb easily cleared the left-center field fence and was the fourth of the season for the two-way Blue Devil. It was also the 21st extra base hit of the season for Hassan, who ranks third on the team in multi-base knocks behind Nate Freiman and Gabriel Saade.
Manno opened the game in his usual fashion, striking out Virginia Tech leadoff hitter Sean Ryan on four pitches, including a 1-2 fastball up in the zone that Ryan whiffed on to end his at bat. He followed by inducing two flyouts from the Hokies’ two and three hitters to end the inning with just 13 total pitches.
The Blue Devils kept swinging and opened the second inning with two straight singles on the way to another run and a 2-0 lead. Williams and Gould started the rally with consecutive singles through the infield, including a dribbler through the right side from Gould that moved Williams from first to third. The base knock extended Gould’s hitting streak to 13 consecutive games and set up Lemmerman for the RBI when the freshman shortstop drove in Williams with a sacrifice fly to deep center field.
Manno came out and retired the first two batters in the second, including another strikeout, but came out on the wrong end of a wind-aided RBI double that led to two Hokie runs and a tied ballgame. After sitting down the first two batters, Manno surrendered his first base hit to Klint Reed, who ripped a 3-1 fastball to left field. He followed by battling Jose Cueto into a 3-2 count before Virginia Tech’s designated hitter smacked a high pop-up to shallow center field. The fly ball hung in the air for several seconds and drifted from second base into the outfield where it eventually fell harmlessly between three Blue Devils who had converged on the drifting pop-up. Reed hustled all the way around from first to score on the play while Cueto never stopped running and ended up on second by the time Duke got the ball back into the infield. Manno then balked to send Cueto to third before misfiring on a 2-2 offering to Steve Bumbry to allow Cueto to score on a wild pitch. He would sit down Bumbry on the next pitch to end the inning though, getting him to chase another fastball high in the zone.
Senior designated hitter Jonathan Nicolla unknotted the score in the top of the third, however, with an RBI single that followed consecutive walks by Wright. Wright walked both Hassan and Freiman on eight straight pitches before surrendering the two-strike base hit to Nicolla that sent in Hassan for the sophomore outfielder’s eighth run in his last four games. The Blue Devils had a chance to add to their 3-2 lead with Freiman on third and Williams at the plate after Nicolla’s single, but the Hokies limited the damage by turning a close double play on William’s ensuing grounder up the middle to end the inning.
The run-saving double play proved to be even more important in Virginia Tech’s next offensive series as the Hokies strung together another two-out rally in the bottom half of the third and scored two runs on a home run by O’Brien to jump ahead 4-3. O’Brien’s long ball followed a two-out double by Matt Hacker, but was almost pulled back when Hassan tracked it to the left field fence and made a leaping stab at the deep fly as it was headed over the wall. The ball was just out of Hassan’s grasp, however, and cleared the fence by just a few feet to give the Hokies their first lead of the ballgame.
The Hokies had a chance to add to their one-run lead after putting the leadoff man on base and moving him to third with one out, but came away empty-handed thanks to some clutch pitching by Manno. Manno opened the inning by walking Bumbry and giving him a free pass to second with a balk before Chris Kay bunted Bumbry over to third, setting up a one-out scoring opportunity. Manno kept his cool, however, and went ahead 1-2 in the count against Ryan before Bumbry took off for the plate on the next offering on an attempted suicide squeeze. Ryan had difficulty handling Manno’s pitch on the play, however, and bunted his high fastball foul to end his at bat and send Bumbry back to third. Manno then forced Hacker to fly out to shallow right field to end the inning with a still manageable one-run deficit.
Virginia Tech would not be denied their next scoring opportunity though, and scored again in the bottom of the sixth to go ahead 5-3. O’Brien opened the rally with a leadoff single before scoring all the way from first on a well-hit double to the right field warning track by Seaborn. Seaborn moved to third on the same play when the throw from Michael Ghizzoni in right field short-hopped Saade and bounced off his glove. The extra-base knock signaled the end of the day for Manno, who left reliever Ryan Perry with a runner on third base and one out in the inning. Perry kept his dominant run out of the bullpen alive and got Duke out of the inning without any further damage by striking out Reed on three straight pitches and forcing Cueto to pop up to first base.
Duke had an opportunity to cut into Virginia Tech’s lead after stringing together a pair of two-out RBI singles in the seventh, but had their rally cut short by Wright who forced Freiman to fly out to left. After allowing Duke to score a run in each of the first three innings, Wright settled down and held the Blue Devils scoreless over his next four innings. Duke knocked out six hits during that span, but left four men on while having another opportunity erased on a Hokie double play.
Meanwhile, Virginia Tech made the most of their next scoring opportunity and went ahead 6-3 in the seventh after Ryan drove in Bumbry with a one-out sacrifice fly to deep left field. Ryan’s RBI flyout sent in Bumbry from third after the Hokie eight-hitter opened the inning with a double and moved over to third on a groundout up the middle by Kay.
Duke finally broke the scoring drought in the top of the eighth when Lemmerman ripped a two-out single through the right side to send in Williams and trim the deficit to 6-4. Lemmerman’s base knock was hit right at Virginia Tech second baseman Austin Wates, who did all he could to keep the ball in front of him on the short-hop. Lemmerman hit the ball so hard, however, that the one-hopper bounced off Wates’ chest and careened into right field to allow Williams to score from third.
The Blue Devils gave the run back almost immediately in the bottom of the eighth, however, when a potential double play ground ball was thrown into right field to allow an unearned run to score. The misfire to second base was the first of two errors on the play, the second of which came when Duke attempted to throw the ball in to the plate. The second error allowed Seaborn to move over to third where he would score from two at bats later on a sacrifice fly from pinch hitter Matt Blow. Newly-inserted right fielder John Bunder sacrificed his well-being to make an outstanding grab on Blow’s RBI flyout, tracking the ball all the way to the wall before getting airborne to make the grab as he dove onto the warning track. Bunder was able to hang on to the ball as he landed, but would have to leave the game after his all-out effort resulted in a game-ending injury for the two-way freshman.
Though down to their final three outs and trailing 8-4, the Blue Devils refused to lie down. Beginning with a leadoff single by McCurdy and a full count walk drawn by Hassan, the Blue Devils squeaked out one more run before Hokie reliever Rob Waskiewicz ended the game. McCurdy scored Duke’s final run on a balk after Freiman lined out to deep center field to send him over to third. That was the only mistake over the rest of the inning for Waskiewicz, however, as he closed out the game after sitting down Duke’s final two hitters.
The loss knots the series at one game apiece with the series victory riding on Saturday’s 1 p.m. meeting. Duke will put the ball in the hands of sophomore Jonathan Foreman (2-1, 2.55 ERA), who has led Duke to a