DURHAM, N.C. – Junior Chris Proctor drew a seven-pitch walk with the bases loaded in the bottom of the ninth to propel Duke to a come-from-behind, 6-5, victory over Liberty Tuesday evening at the Durham Bulls Athletic Park.
Down 5-4 heading to the ninth, Duke (27-25) received an RBI Max Miller single to tie the game before Proctor coaxed the walk with two outs.
“I like where we're at right now,” said head coach Chris Pollard. “We're never backing down. We got up early and had a really good first inning. We knew somewhere along the way [Liberty] would have an answer.”
Duke bolted to an early 3-0 lead following the first. The Blue Devils received four singles in the frame, starting with back-to-back base knocks from Herron and Zack Kone. After Griffin Conine walked to load the bases, Jack Labosky sent a sacrifice fly to center. Consecutive RBI singles from Miller and Zyla established the three-run lead.
Freshman Graeme Stinson kept Liberty off the board for four strong innings in the no decision. He allowed one hit, struck out seven and walked one.
“Graeme really likes pitching in this ballpark,” Pollard said. “Threw a ton of strikes. He commanded his breaking ball and produced a lot of swings and misses. Tonight he really pitched. Showed good mound presence.”
Liberty (30-20) touched the Duke bullpen for two fifth-inning runs, starting with Andrew Kowalo's solo homer to straightaway center. Two batters later, Dylan Allen laid down the RBI sacrifice bunt to trim the margin, 3-2.
In the fifth, sophomore Kennie Taylor ripped a two-out RBI single to score Herron.
Duke's 4-2 lead unraveled in the seventh. Kowalo and Will Shepherd singled to start the inning. After a walk loaded the bases, an infield single and Duke throwing error plated a pair. Trey McDyre added an RBI base hit to give the Flames their first lead, 5-4.
Junior Chris McGrath was then able to get Duke out of the jam, striking out the final two batters to minimize the damage. Senior Karl Blum (2-1) retired all six batters he faced the next two stanzas to give Duke the chance to rally.
“I thought it was a tremendous job by Chris McGrath,” Pollard added. “He had some bad luck. The dribbler to first and the cue shot off the end of the bat to center field. But then he produced the two strikeouts to get us off the field. Karl followed it up with two really good innings. I thought that was as good an outing as Karl's had all year. Just dominant stuff.”
With one out in the bottom of the ninth, Labosky and Taylor both singled, setting up Miller's game-tying knock. Pinch hitter Justin Bellinger drew a walk to load the bases and Proctor ultimately brought home the game winning run.
Following the game, several members of the team and coaching staff shaved their heads in support of the Vs. Cancer Foundation,
Duke concludes the regular season Thursday-Saturday, May 18-20 at North Carolina.