ELON, N.C. – Bennett Davis homered twice and drove in three runs to lead Elon to an 8-7 win over Duke Wednesday evening at Latham Park.
Davis blasted a two-run shot in the second inning that tied the game and then connected on the second of back-to-back homers in the bottom of the seventh. His solo shot in the seventh turned out to be the game-winner, as Elon closer Thomas Girdwood stifled a late Duke rally by stranding three base runners to earn his 10th save of the season.
Elon (25-13) sent three balls out of the park in the game with the other coming from left fielder Pat Irvine, who drove in two runs and scored twice. The Phoenix never trailed after the second inning, but had to fight off a Duke club that tied the game twice and was one pitch away from tying the game again in the ninth. Duke hammered four singles in the top of the ninth, including two with two outs, but left the tying run on third base after Girdwood struck out cleanup hitter Jeremy Gould to end the game.
The Blue Devils (27-16, 10-11 ACC) got three RBI from sophomore shortstop Jake Lemmerman, who crushed a two-run homer in the fifth inning that tied the game. Lemmerman, who also gave Duke a go-ahead grand slam in the 12th inning against Maryland last Saturday, drove in his third run with a two-out, two-strike single in the top of the ninth inning. Duke outfielder Jeremy Gould also homered for the sixth time this season.
Duke’s bullpen was called on early in the game, as four relievers took over for starter David Putman, who gave up four runs over a career-high 2.2 innings. Jonathan Foreman then tossed 1.1 innings and gave u pone earned run before freshman Ben Grisz (0-1) took over for 2.1 innings. Grisz, in his seventh relief appearance of the year, struck out three batters and allowed just one of the first seven batters he faced to reach base. He was pulled after giving up the consecutive long balls in the seventh, however, before Kyle Butler and Joe Pedevillano came in to close out the final two innings without allowing a run.
Elon, meanwhile, used relievers Daniel Britt and Girdwood to take over a seven-inning start from left-hander Cory Harrilchak, who scattered five hits and four earned runs in a no-decision. Harrilchak struck out seven batters and walked two while throwing 96 pitches.
After a scoreless first inning, Gould put Duke on top with a solo home run to lead off a two-run second inning. Gould struck the second pitch he saw to straight-away center field where it just cleared the glove of center fielder Harry Austin, who climbed the fence but could not come up with the ball. Duke then took advantage of a full-count walk drawn by Will Piwnica-Worms and played small ball to push him across the plate. Tim Sherlock laid down a sacrifice bunt to get Piwnica-Worms to second base before he stole third base and then scored on a one-out groundout by Brian Litwin to give Duke a 2-0 lead.
The lead did not last long, however, as Elon rapped out three hits, including a two-run homer from Davis and an RBI triple from Austin as part of a four-run inning. Pat Irvine stared the rally by drawing a leadoff walk, which Davis promptly followed with a two-run bomb over the left field fence. Mike Melillo then took another walk and went first-to-third on an ensuing single from Justin Hilt that left runners at the corners. Putman then got his first out of the inning on a groundout from Ryan Adams, but had to concede a run in the process. With Melillo on third after the groundout, Austin then lifted a fly ball into the right field gap for an RBI triple before Putman rolled a ground ball to Saade, who fired the ball to second base to start an inning-ending double play.
Harrilchak brushed off the two-run second inning to retire the side in order once again in the third. He picked up two more strikeouts during the frame, giving him four for the game. Harrilchak had thrown just 36 pitches through his first three innings of work, 24 of which came in for strikes.
Putman got the first two outs in the third inning, but found himself in a jam after wrapping a pair of two-out walks to Davis and Hilt around a double by Melillo. With the bases loaded and two outs, Duke went to Foreman to get out of the situation, and the junior right-hander came through with a five-pitch strikeout against Adams. Foreman came in and fired four of his five pitches in the zone, wasting an 0-2 fastball in the process, and stranded all three runners on base after getting a called third strike with a 1-2 breaking ball.
Harrilchak battled his control in the top of the fourth inning, and Duke took advantage by scoring twice to tie the game at 4-4. Harrilchak put the first two Blue Devils on base, walking Freiman and hitting Gould with an 0-2 fastball. A breakdown in Elon’s bunt defense then allowed Piwnica-Worms to reach first with a single after he laid one down the third base line where Davis fielded it, but had no one to throw to at third or first base. With the bases juiced after Piwnica-Worms’ bunt single, Harrilchak got two straight outs with a strikeout and a ground ball, but got hurt by a throwing error from his catcher that sent in a run. The error came when Litwin rolled a ground ball to third base where Davis fielded it and threw to the plate for a force out. Melillo caught the ball on the plate for the second out, but opted to try and get Litwin at first base. Melillo’s throw went over the head of Adams, which allowed Gould to score and Piwnica-Worms to move from first to third. With two outs and men at the corners after the error, Duke tried to use a double steal to get in a run, which worked as Litwin drew a rundown between first and second and stalled just long enough to allow Piwnica-Worms to score on the throw.
Duke gave the lead right back to the Phoenix in the bottom of the fourth, however, after a fielding error botched a potential double play and led to the first of two runs in the inning. The error came with men on first and second on a ground ball hit by Harrilchak that Saade fielded to his left, but threw into left field when trying to get the ball to second base. Austin scored on the play, while Zeth Stone moved over to third. Foreman would then get three straight outs, but not before a sacrifice fly from Irvine sent in an unearned run that ran Elon’s lead back to two runs at 6-4.
But Lemmerman and Saade, who could not hook up on the double play in the bottom of the fourth, connected on a double and a two-run homer that tied the game at 6-6 in the top of the fifth. Saade’s two-bagger came with two outs and landed on the warning track in left field just before Lemmerman mashed Harrilchak’s next offering well over the left field wall. The home run was the third of the season for Lemmerman and his second in Duke’s last two games.
Duke went to Grisz in the bottom of the fifth, and he needed just nine pitches to get through the bottom of Elon’s lineup. Grisz racked up one strikeout during the frame, getting Hilt to watch a 1-2 breaking ball that broke started at his shoulder, but broke back across the plate for a called strike three.
Grisz used his breaking ball to get another strikeout in a scoreless sixth inning, getting Harrilchak to chase the 1-2 breaking ball that broke in on his hands. Grisz did allow his first base runner with a five-pitch walk to Stone, but got some help from Freiman, who gunned down Stone at second base when he tried to steal. That marked the fifth time this season that Freiman caught a runner stealing and made opposing runners just 6-for-12 against the 6-8, 250 Freiman.
The Phoenix bats woke up in the bottom of the seventh with back-to-back homers from Irvine and Davis that put Elon back on top 8-6. Irvine’s bomb cleared the deepest part of the park in center field, while Davis’ came one pitch later and went over the left field fence. Irvine got an extra chance to hit his after he lifted a high foul ball over to the left side that McCurdy got under, but let bounce off the heel of his glove when it finally came back down. The error made Irvine’s homer an unearned run, but gave Elon the lead nevertheless. Grisz then issued his second walk of the game before Duke called on Butler to get the final two outs of the inning.
After Harrilchak gave Elon seven innings on the mound, the left-hander moved to center field to make way for Britt, who entered the game in search of six outs that would lock up the win for Elon. Britt did his job, but had to work around a walk and a hit batter before getting the third out. He still got through the inning with Elon’s 8-6 lead intact and picked up a pair of strikeouts in the process.
Down to their final three outs, the Blue Devils mounted a rally that included four singles, including a two-out run scoring knock from Lemmerman, but could not get the tying run across against the closer Girdwood. Duke got a pair of pinch-hit singles from Eric Pfisterer and Alex Hassan with one out and then got a run-scoring base hit from Lemmerman that he pelted back up the middle. Another base hit from Freiman loaded the bases with two outs, but Girdwood managed to escape the jam by striking out Gould with a 3-2 fastball on the outside corner for the third out.
Duke will resume ACC play this Friday through Sunday with a three-game home set against Boston College, beginning Friday at 7 p.m. The series against Boston College is the third to last of the season for Duke, which is currently hanging on to the eighth spot in the ACC standings. Boston College currently occupies the fifth spot with a 10-9 record and a .526 win percentage, but is one of four ACC teams – along with Duke – that are within two games of each other in the standings.