DURHAM, N.C. – Duke starter Will Currier combined with three relievers to hold La Salle to one run in nine innings on Sunday as Duke topped La Salle 11-1 in the finale of a four-game series at Jack Coombs Field.
Currier (1-0), a junior right-hander, shut down the Explorers (1-3) for five complete innings in his first start of the season, scattering five hits while throwing 67 pitches. Sophomore right-hander Dennis O'Grady took over in the sixth and seventh with two perfect innings of relief before freshmen Eric Pfisterer and David Putman split the final two innings and combined for five strikeouts to lock up the win and the series for the Blue Devils (3-1).
Junior outfielder Jeremy Gould, senior catcher Matt Williams and junior second baseman Gabriel Saade each provided two RBI in the win with Gould and Williams each mashing their second doubles of the series. Senior first baseman Nate Freiman drew three walks, two of which were intentional free passes, and was one of 10 Blue Devils to score a run.
Duke matched La Salle with eight hits in the game, but took advantage of 11 walks to put double digits on the scoreboard for the second time this season. The Blue Devils also turned three double plays, thanks to the defensive play of third baseman Ryan McCurdy who started all three turns. McCurdy also had a successful day from the leadoff spot, collecting a hit and two walks while driving in a run and scoring once.
La Salle got its lone RBI from center fielder John Malloy, who sent in Rick Gehman from first base with a two-out RBI double in the ninth inning. Malloy and right fielder Dennis Burge were the only La Salle hitters with multiple hits on the day. Starter TJ Chism (0-1) took the loss for La Salle after giving up six runs – three earned – in his four innings of work.
Williams led all Blue Devils with a .444 average and eight hits in the series, while Gould finished at .438 with four RBI and five runs in the four-game set. Freiman clocked two home runs in the series and sent in a team-high seven RBI, while Alex Hassan (.375) and Saade (.333) also hit over .300 in the series.
Currier got into some trouble early in the first inning, giving up a leadoff single to Malloy and a walk to three-hitter Jon Gyles that put two men on base. His infield defense helped him get out of the jam though, as McCurdy fielded a ground ball and fired to second base to start an inning-ending 5-4-3 double play.
The Blue Devils took advantage of a few breaks and scored four runs in their first offensive series, beginning with leadoff walks drawn by McCurdy and Hassan. Chism rebounded after the free passes to force Gould to line out for the first out of the inning, but then issued another walk to Freiman that loaded the bases. But La Salle’s defense was unable to bail Chism out of the jam, as Williams then came to the plate and hit a ground ball that Explorer third baseman Justin Handler booted into left field, allowing both McCurdy and Hassan to come around and score. Jake Lemmerman then followed by laying down a bunt single to re-load the bases, and Saade sent in another run with a sacrifice fly to deep right field. Will Piwnica-Worms kept the wheel turning in Duke’s next at bat with a two-out single through the right side that scored Williams for Duke’s final run of the inning.
Duke’s defense continued to back up Currier in the second, turning another 5-4-3 double play to end the inning and keep the 4-0 lead intact. McCurdy started the turn once again after fielding a short hop at third base and flipping over to Saade, who fired a bullet over to first base to get the runner by a step.
The Blue Devils played small ball in the second and tacked on another run to jump ahead 5-0. The series started with a leadoff double from McCurdy that was lined well over the head of La Salle left fielder Brendan Norton. Hassan then came to the plate and slapped a ground ball to the right side to advance McCurdy to third just before Gould drove him home with a base knock up the middle.
The top of the third provided yet another defensive highlight for the Blue Devils as McCurdy, Saade and Freiman connected to turn a 5-4-3 double play for the third straight inning. This one started with a ground ball that was hit down the third base line that McCurdy backhanded on one knee and fired 90 feet to Saade at second base. Saade made the quick transfer and fired to Freiman to complete the turn, which was Duke’s fifth of the season.
Currier kept cruising through the fifth inning, holding La Salle without a run through five complete frames. He scattered five hits during that span, all of which were singles, and surrendered no more than one base knock per inning. After his five innings of work, Currier handed the ball over O’Grady, who inherited a 6-0 lead after Duke put one more run on the board on a sacrifice fly from Lemmerman in the bottom of the sixth.
After O’Grady got through a scoreless first inning of work, the Blue Devils put one more run on the board on an RBI groundout by Gould to run their lead to 7-0. Gould’s ground ball came with one out and two men in scoring position and gave him his second RBI of the game and his fourth of the series.
O’Grady kept the shutout alive with a three-up, three-down seventh inning that featured his second strikeout of the game. Already ahead 7-0, Duke tacked two more runs on the board in the bottom of the seventh on a sacrifice fly from McCurdy and an errant pickoff throw that allowed pinch hitter Tom Luciano to score from third base.
With a 9-0 lead, Duke went to the left-handed Pfisterer to take the game into the ninth inning, and he did so without giving up a hit and striking out three straight batters. A 15th round draft pick out of high school, Pfisterer shook off a leadoff walk and sat down three straight Explorers, two of which were called strikeouts on breaking balls.
Two more runs in the bottom of the eighth gave Duke an 11-0 lead heading into the final inning. Williams drove in the first with an RBI double to the right field warning track, and Saade sent in the second with a sacrifice fly to deep left field. Duke drew two walks to open the inning, both of which were taken by pinch hitters Tim Sherlock and Marcus Jones.
Putman came on the mound to relieve Pfisterer in the top of the ninth, and the freshman nearly matched his classmate’s performance with two strikeouts. La Salle managed to break up the shutout with two outs in the inning, however, when Malloy roped a line drive to right field that fell just in front of a diving Luciano and rolled to the warning track for an RBI double. That would be the only blemish on Putman’s outing though, as he picked off a comebacker to the mound and flipped it to first base to end the game.
With Sunday’s win, Duke takes the series 3-1 after falling 5-2 in the season opener. Duke will have its first full week of the season without a mid-week game and return to Jack Coombs Field on Saturday, Feb. 28, with the first two games of a three-game set against Dartmouth. The Saturday double header will begin at noon.