DURHAM, N.C. - Dennis O'Grady drove in the winning run with a two-out RBI single in the bottom of the ninth to lead Duke to a 5-4 win over Fordham in the Blue Devils' home debut at the Durham Bulls Athletic Park Friday evening.
O'Grady came to the plate in the ninth with the score tied at 4-4 and classmate Jake Lemmerman standing on second base. With a 2-1 count, O'Grady drove a base hit to right field, sending Lemmerman around third and toward the plate where he slid in feet first for the winning run.
Duke's bullpen duo of Ben Grisz and Marcus Stroman (1-0) combined to hold Fordham (0-4) to one run and four hits over the final four innings of the game. In relief of starter Michael Ness, who went five innings and scattered three runs, Grisz tossed three scoreless innings and struck out two. Stroman, who also went 1-for-4 with a run and his first career triple, took the mound in the ninth and gave up a two-out RBI double, but earned the win after O'Grady singled in the winning run in the next inning.
Duke's top four hitters in the lineup combined for six hits, including two each from senior catcher Ryan McCurdy and senior first baseman Jeremy Gould. McCurdy, in his first game of the season, went 2-for-5 with a run, while Gould went 2-for-5 with an RBI. Gould now has a hit in each of his first five games and has reached base safely in 31 consecutive games. Freshman leadoff man baseman Eric Brady also extended his hitting streak to five games with a single.
Duke senior outfielder Gabriel Saade was also key in the win, driving in two runs with a fourth-inning infield single and an eighth-inning sacrifice fly. His single in the fourth tied the game at 3-3, and his sacrifice fly ball in the eighth put Duke ahead 4-3.
After Saade put Duke on top in the bottom of the eighth, however, Fordham mounted a two-out rally in the top of the ninth inning. With Stroman on the mound, Fordham's first two batters went down for the first two outs. A two-out walk came back to hurt the Blue Devils, however, as designated hitter Chris Walker mashed a two-out RBI double off the center field wall to tie the game at 4-4. The Blue Devils responded with two hits in the bottom of the ninth off of Fordham reliever Rich Anastasi (0-1) to claim the win.
The Rams offense got started early with a pair of doubles in the first inning that put them ahead 1-0. Duke responded in the next half inning, however, and tied the game at 1-1 on an RBI single from Gould. Gould's base knock drove in McCurdy from second base and also extended the senior's hitting streak to five games.
McCurdy, who started the first-inning rally with a double in his first at bat of the season, helped extend another Duke rally in the bottom of the third with his second base hit of the day. Following a leadoff triple by Stroman, McCurdy stepped into the box and worked a 2-0 count in his favor. Fordham starter Max Krakowiak then misfired a wild pitch that allowed Stroman to score just before McCurdy slapped his next base hit into right field. McCurdy would advance to third, but was left there when Krakowiak rebounded to roll an inning-ending double play.
Ness, cruised through the second and third innings for Duke, but ran into control issues with two outs in the fourth. After retiring the first two batters, Ness gave up a base hit to Angelo Ponte and then consecutive walks to nine-hitter Alex Kenny and leadoff man Brian Kownacki. Ness then jumped ahead 0-2 in the count to Martinez, but had his next offering driven into left field for a two-run, two-out single.
Duke's offense responded in the next half inning once again, however, and tied the game on an RBI infield single from Saade. Saade came to the plate with men at the corners and one out and dribbled a grounder to the left side. While sophomore Will Piwnica-Worms took off for the plate from third base, Fordham third baseman Ryan McCrann charged the grounder, but couldn't get an accurate throw to first base in time to get Saade. Krakowiak avoided further damage once again, however, by rolling the Rams' second double-play ground ball of the game.
With the score tied at 3-3, the game turned into a pitcher's duel. Both Ness and Krakowiak threw scoreless fifth innings before Ness handed the ball to Grisz in the top of the sixth. Krakowiak worked around two walks in the bottom of a scoreless sixth in his final inning before being replaced by Anastasi.
Grisz shut out the Rams in the seventh and eighth as well to keep the score deadlocked at 3-3. He was rewarded with the go-ahead run in the bottom of the eighth when Saade drove in O'Grady with a sacrifice fly ball to right field. O'Grady, who was hit by a pitch to start the inning, beat the throw by just a few steps by sliding into Fordham catcher catcher Angelo Ponte, who was blocking the plate.
Fordham would not go quietly, however, and strung together a two-out rally in the top of the ninth. After Stroman took the mound and retired the first two hitters he saw, striking out one and inducing a weak groundout from the other, three-hitter P.J. Como drew a two-out walk. He would soon score all the way from first base on Walker's ensuing RBI double that banged off the center field wall.
With the score tied at 4-4, the junior duo of Lemmerman and O'Grady went to work and teamed up to score the winning run. Lemmerman started the rally with a one-out single back up the middle, but was almost left stranded there when Anastasi induced a flyout and what should have been an inning-ending groundout to third base. Ryan Maghini, who entered the game in the top of the eighth, misfired on his throw to first base and pulled McCrann off the bag and allowed Piwnica-Worms a free pass to first. With men on first and second following the error, O'Grady ripped his single into right field to send in the winning run.
With Duke leading 1-0, Duke and Fordham continue the three-game series on Saturday, Feb. 27, at 2 p.m. at the Durham Bulls Athletic Park. The first 500 fans at the game will get a free "Duke a the DBAP" t-shirt.