DURHAM, N.C. - Brian Litwin drove in the go-ahead run with a two-out, two-run single in the bottom of the eighth inning to lead Duke to a 5-3 series-clinching win over No. 11 North Carolina Sunday afternoon at the Durham Bulls Athletic Park.
Duke (11-4, 2-1 ACC) trailed 3-2 heading into the eighth inning, but got consecutive two-out hits from freshman Eric Brady, who tied the game with a double, and Litwin, who drove in the game-winner with his two-strike single. Litwin, who entered the game in the seventh inning as a pinch runner, came to the plate in the eighth with runners on second and third and slapped a 2-2 offering from North Carolina reliever Greg Holt through the right side to score both runners.
With the win, Duke takes the series from 11th-ranked North Carolina (12-4, 1-2 ACC). The victories give the Blue Devils their second straight series win over the Tar Heels after taking two out of three games in 2009 when the Tar Heels were the top-ranked team in the country.
Duke junior Dennis O'Grady, in his first start since April 12, 2008, matched a career high with six complete innings in which he scattered seven hits and three runs without issuing a walk. With Duke trailing 3-2 heading into the seventh inning, he left the game in the hands of sophomore reliever Ben Grisz, who tossed three shutout innings to secure the victory.
With the win, Duke claims one point in the Carlyle Cup standings. The Carlyle Cup is an annual all-sports competition between Duke and North Carolina that awards points to each school for victories in head-to-head competition. Duke currently trails North Carolina 11-7.5 for the 2009-10 season.
Duke senior Will Currier launched his first home run of the year with a two-run blast in the bottom of the fifth inning that tied the game at 2-2. Currier finished with two hits and two RBI before swapping places with Litwin in the bottom of the seventh. Duke pounded 10 hits in the game and got multi-hit performances from Brady, who went 2-for-4 with an RBI and two runs, Currier and freshman Marcus Stroman.
North Carolina starter Colin Bates shut out Duke for his first four innings before allowing Currier's home run in the fifth inning. Bates went on to throw 6.2 innings before Holt entered the game and gave up Duke's three runs in the bottom of the eighth.
Cleanup hitter Jesse Wierzbicki homered for North Carolina to give the Tar Heels an early 2-0 lead before Currier's home run tied it at 2-2 in the fifth. Shortstop Ryan Graepel then put North Carolina back on top with a two-out single in the sixth inning before the Blue Devils went back on top in the eighth inning.
O'Grady and Bates dueled through two scoreless innings to open the game before Wierzbicki broke the scoreless streak with a two-run homer in the top of the third. Wierzbicki's two-run shot came with two outs and cleared the right-center field wall to put the Tar Heels on top 2-0. Five-hitter Brian Goodwin then followed with a line drive to the right field wall, but Duke sophomore Joe Pedevillano chased it to the warning track and made a leaping catch into the wall to end the inning.
The duel continued into the top of the fifth inning when O'Grady retired the side for the second straight frame. Through five innings, the two pitchers combined to allow just seven hits and no walks with the only runs coming in the top of the third on Wierzbicki's home run. Duke quickly changed that in the bottom of the fifth, however, when Currier lifted a two-run homer to the deepest part of the ballpark to tie the game at 2-2. Following a leadoff infield single from Brady, Currier mashed the first pitch he saw on a line to straight-away center field for his first long ball of the season.
North Carolina put together two hits in the top of the sixth to scratch across another run and reclaim a 3-2 lead. Graepel came through with a two-out single back up the middle to score Levi Michael, who started the rally with a leadoff single up the middle. Graepel's single sent in North Carolina's third two-out run of the day and extended the senior shortstop's hitting streak to a career-best 10 games.
Following a strong six innings from O'Grady, Grisz took over on the mound for Duke. The sophomore right-hander retired the side in order in the seventh on just seven pitches.
Duke had a chance to tie the game and take the lead in the bottom of the seventh, but had the opportunity spoiled by Holt, who stranded men on second and third after entering the game with two outs in the seventh. Duke strung together consecutive one-out singles from Currier and Stroman in the inning and moved them both into scoring position with a groundout by Pedevillano. That prompted North Carolina to bring in Holt, who got senior Ryan McCurdy to fly out to right-center field for the third out of the inning.
Grisz got through another quick inning in the eighth, needing just six more pitches to retire the side in order once again.
After stranding three runners in scoring position in the sixth and seventh innings, the Blue Devils got a pair of clutch two-out hits from Brady and Litwin to drive in three runs and take a 5-3 lead heading into the top of the ninth. Brady came to the plate with two outs and men on first and second and struck a double down the left field line to send in Lemmerman for the tying run. Litwin - who entered the game in the previous inning as a pinch runner - then stepped to the plate with two men in scoring position and fell behind 1-2 in the count. After watching a breaking ball come in below the strike zone, Litwin slapped Holt's next offering through the right side and into right field for a go-ahead two-run single.
With the tables suddenly turned in Duke's favor, Grisz needed just three more outs to lock up the win for the Blue Devils. He allowed the first two runners he faced - Goodwin and Graepel - to reach with a single and a walk, but then buckled down to sit down the next two hitters he faced. Both Tar Heels advanced to second and third in the process, but Grisz locked in and got pinch hitter Seth Baldwin to slap a ground ball back up the middle. Stroman cut it off near second base and fired from his knees to first base just in time to record the final out of the game.
Duke's next ACC series will be at the Durham Bulls Athletic Park this Friday through Sunday, March 19-21, against Miami. Duke will also have a midweek showdown against Liberty on Wednesday, March 17, at the USA Baseball National Training Complex in Cary, N.C., at 4 p.m.