DURHAM, N.C. – Duke dashed to a quick three-run lead but saw its advantage give way in the middle innings, falling to No. 18 East Carolina, 9-4, Tuesday evening at the Durham Bulls Athletic Park.
East Carolina (13-4) turned a three-run deficit into a two-tally lead with five fifth-inning runs, aided by two walks and four wild pitches. The Pirates plated at least a run in each of the next three frames to increase the margin, while Duke (10-9, 2-1 ACC) went without a hit from the third through the sixth.
Every member of the ECU starting nine recorded at least one hit, led by Charlie Yorgen, Turner Brown and Eric Tyler’s two apiece. Sophomore Jimmy Herron continued his current hot streak, going 2-for-3 with a run and an RBI. Junior Michael Smiciklas reached base in three of his four plate appearances with a double, a single and a walk.
The Blue Devils got to ECU starter Hunter Hood for three runs the first two innings. Junior Justin Bellinger lofted a right-field sacrifice fly in the first to score Herron, who drew a leadoff walk. Duke followed with two second-inning runs. Erikson Nichols began the rally, sending a one-out base knock to right before a Smiciklas double to left. After extending his current hit streak to six games, Nichols crossed home on Herron’s RBI single.
Duke’s offense stalled once ECU replaced Hood with Chris Holba (3-0) to begin the third. Holba kept the Blue Devils without a hit from the third through the sixth. He did not allow a run in five innings, struck out five and walked just one.
“In all honesty, Holba was very good,” said head coach Chris Pollard. “Sometimes you have to be willing to give credit where credit is due and I thought that young man pitched outstanding. We were on our toes. We had some really good at bats we strung together against Hood, then he came in and just recaptured momentum for his team.”
In his second career start, freshman Graeme Stinson was dominant for the first four innings before East Carolina started the fifth with three straight singles. In the no decision, Stinson allowed three runs on five hits in 4.1 innings, striking out seven. For the season, Stinson has fanned 20 batters over 9.1 frames.
“It was a tremendous next step for Graeme against a very good club,” Pollard added. “[East Carolina is] absolutely one of the top 20 teams in the country and they showed it today. [Stinson] dominated them for four innings. He’s featuring electric stuff. If he continues to pitch the way he’s pitched the past couple weeks, he’s going to play a prominent role for us moving forward.”
Duke’s 3-0 lead unraveled in a tough top of the fifth that witnessed five ECU runs cross home plate. The Pirates backed up a Bryant Packard leadoff base hit with two seeing-eye singles, including an RBI Dusty Baker bunt. Yorgen bounced an RBI grounder to the right side to end Stinson’s outing.
“The fifth inning, that’s one of those tip-your-hat moments,” Pollard added. “The leadoff at bat was a good at bat, a solid single to right field. Then you had the chopper that bounced over Justin [Bellinger]’s head then you had the push bunt. I liked that Graeme [Stinson] continued to execute. He continued to pitch to contact.”
After Stinson’s departure, Duke’s bullpen issued two walks and four wild pitches to help East Carolina take a 5-3 lead prior to the fifth’s final out. Senior Karl Blum (1-1) ultimately suffered the loss after walking both batters he faced in the fifth.
East Carolina scored in each of the next three innings to grow the margin, 9-3, heading to the ninth. Graduate student Jalen Phillips plated the contest’s final tally. After being struck by a pitch, Phillips crossed home on an ECU fielding error.
Duke returns to action Friday, March 17 with the first matchup in a three-game series versus Wake Forest at the DBAP.