CARY, N.C. - Will Piwnica-Worms beat out a two-out infield single to drive in the winning run in the bottom of the 11th as Duke defeated Liberty 3-2 on Wednesday evening at the USA Baseball National Training Complex.
Sophomore outfielder Joe Pedevillano - who reached base four times in the game - started the 11th inning with a leadoff walk, moved to second on a sacrifice bunt by Ryan McCurdy and then stole third with two outs. Piwnica-Worms then slapped a ground ball up the middle that was cut off by Liberty shortstop Matt Williams, but Piwnica-Worms beat the throw to first base to allow Pedevillano to score the winning run.
In a game that was tied at 2-2 from the seventh inning, Duke got a combined five scoreless relief innings from Ben Grisz, Marcus Stroman and Ryan Knott (1-0) following a 5.1-inning, one-run start from freshman Chase Bebout. Knott picked up the victory - his first of the season - after throwing a scoreless ninth inning, while Grisz and Stroman both contributed two scoreless frames each.
Pedevillano scored twice after walking three times and knocking a single. The 5-6 right fielder also came up big defensively in the top of the 10th inning by chasing down two fly balls at the wall to keep the potential go-ahead run at first base both times.
Duke did not commit an error in the game and had numerous run-saving plays in the infield and outfield. Junior shortstop Jake Lemmerman made a diving stop on a ground ball in the fifth inning and fired to home plate in time to cut down what would have been the go-ahead run. McCurdy caught a runner stealing in the second inning and also got the lead runner on an attempted sacrifice bunt in the top of the seventh.
Liberty's Dustin Umberger and Bebout engaged in a pitcher's duel through the first five innings, as both pitchers combined to allow just five hits and two runs. Bebout, in his second career start, walked just one batter while lasting 5.1 innings. The Duke freshman ran into some trouble in the sixth, but got bailed out by redshirt-junior Michael Seander, who entered the game with men at the corners and one out but got out of the jam unharmed.
Bebout put zeros on the board in his first three innings and used just 38 pitches during that span. The freshman right-hander struck out two batters in the top of the third, one swinging and one looking, while extending his scoreless streak to nine consecutive innings. He would improve that to 10 innings with a scoreless fourth before the Flames posted their first run in the fifth inning.
Unfortunately for Duke, Umberger did the same for Liberty. Umberger's only fault during his first three frames was a two-out walk that he issued in the top of the first to Piwnica-Worms.
That duel continued until the bottom of the fourth when Duke finally got to Umberger and jumped out to a 1-0 lead on a sacrifice fly ball from Eric Brady. Brady came to the plate with Piwnica-Worms and Jeremy Gould in scoring position and lifted a high fly ball to right field. On the catch, Piwnica-Worms took off for the plate and slid head first around the outstretched arm of Liberty catcher Nathan Thompson. Piwnica-Worms was just outside of Thompson's reach, but still within his own reach of the plate, which he tapped with an outstretched arm to give Duke the lead.
Duke's lead would not last long, however, as an RBI triple from Michael Robertson tied the game at 1-1. Bebout, who had retired eight straight batters heading into the inning, issued a one-out walk to Jeff Jefferson and then surrendered the triple to Robertson. Lemmerman saved Bebout from any further damage and kept the game tied at 1-1 with a diving stop on a ground ball to his backhand side. With Robertson on third, all Duke infielders were pushed up on the infield grass. Liberty's Trey Wimmer pulled a ground ball that was on its way through the left side before Lemmerman dove backwards and to his glove side to cut it off. Robertson took off for the plate immediately, but Lemmerman fired a strike to the plate where McCurdy gloved it and tagged out Robertson.
Bebout got into some trouble again in the top of the sixth, but got bailed out by Seander who came out of the bullpen to clean up the mess. Seander inherited runners at first and third with one out and got some immediate help from McCurdy and Stroman, who teamed up to foil an attempted double steal by the Flames. Curran Redal took off for second base, but stopped midway when McCurdy's throw beat him there. Stroman caught the ball at second and chased Redal back, all the time watching PJ Jiminez at third base, and tagged Redal out while keeping Jiminez at bay. Now with just one runner on third and two outs, Seander struck out Tyler Bream to escape the jam.
Duke had a chance to reclaim the lead in the bottom of the sixth after stringing together consecutive two-out hits, but had the rally spoiled by liberty pitcher Keegan Linza, who induced an inning-ending groundout. Liberty took advantage of its next scoring opportunity and went ahead 2-1 on a pinch-hit RBI single from Josh Richardson in the top of the seventh. The RBI knock followed a leadoff single from Thompson and a walk to Jefferson.
Linza ran into control issues in the bottom of the seventh, however, and issued three straight walks that led to a game-tying run for Duke. After walking the bases loaded, Linza handed the ball to left-hander Chris Roach who came in and threw four straight balls to Dennis O'Grady to walk in the tying run. Those four pitches would be all Roach threw, as JJ McLeod entered the game for the same bases-loaded, one-out situation. McLeod had much better luck as he induced an inning-ending double play to strand two runners and keep the game tied at 2-2.
Liberty had a chance to take the lead in the top of the ninth, but came up empty against Stroman, despite loading the bases with no outs. Stroman moved to the mound after a leadoff double from Thompson and surrendered a single and a walk to load the bases. He bounced back in a big way, however, and struck out the next two batters before inducing a weak ground ball for the final out.
Following a scoreless 10th inning, Knott took the mound and sat down three of the four batters he faced to take the game into the bottom of the 11th. Pedevillano then started the Duke rally before stealing third and scoring on Piwnica-Worms' infield single.
Duke resumes ACC play this Friday through Sunday, March 19-21, with a three-game home series against No. 15 Miami at the Durham Bulls Athletic Park. The Blue Devils are 8-1 at the DBAP following a series win over No. 11 North Carolina last weekend.