NASHVILLE, Tenn. – The Duke baseball offense exploded for 15 hits on its way to an 18-5 victory over second-ranked Vanderbilt Friday evening at Hawkins Field. With the win, the Blue Devils improve to 35-25 on the season, including a perfect 4-0 in the 2019 NCAA Tournament, while Vanderbilt falls to 52-11 on the campaign.
“I’m very proud of our club,” said head coach Chris Pollard. “I thought we played with a lot of poise and I thought we played with a lot of toughness. We came in with a really good gameplan offensively and we executed it well. Ben Gross gave us another great start and kept us in the ballgame. We were really good and really locked in offensively. I thought it was great. I was very impressed with our club. I loved how loose we were and we’re going to do that again tomorrow.”
The Blue Devils’ 18 runs marked the second-highest total on the season, and tied for the second-most in school history for an NCAA Tournament game. Eight of nine Duke starters registered at least one hit, with eight of nine also adding at least one run scored. The offense was led by three-hit efforts from sophomore Joey Loperfido and freshman RJ Schreck, marking Schreck’s first career three-hit game.
Also contributing multi-hit efforts were juniors Matt Mervis and Erikson Nichols along with graduate student Kyle Gallagher, with the trio of players recording two knocks apiece. Gallagher and Nichols tied for the team lead in RBI with four each, with Gallagher tallying one home run and one triple.
On the mound, the Blue Devils received an impressive start from graduate student Ben Gross. Gross (8-4) tossed 5.1 innings, allowing five earned runs on seven hits and five walks while collecting seven strikeouts to earn his team-high eighth win of the season. The duo of sophomore Matt Dockman and junior Eli Herrick combined to close out the game. Dockman worked 1.2 scoreless frames, yielding one walk with a trio of strikeouts to notch his fourth consecutive scoreless outing. Herrick covered the final 2.0 innings, scattering one hit while walking two and striking out one.
Duke struck first in game one, plating a pair of runs in the second inning to grab the early lead. Sophomore Michael Rothenberg began the scoring sequence, reaching on a throwing error by the pitcher. Two outs later, freshman Ethan Murray reached on a walk to place runners on first and second. Nichols used the next at-bat to send a two-out single through the right side to cross the game’s first runs and give the Blue Devils a 2-0 lead.
Vanderbilt did not take long to respond, scoring two in the very next half to knot the contest at two apiece. The inning began with a leadoff double followed by a walk to place runners on first and second. After a double steal advanced both runners 90 feet, a two-out single to left field crossed a pair for the Commodores to even the score at two.
The Blue Devils answered back in the next half with four runs to regain the lead. Loperfido began the frame with a single to right field before Mervis reached on a one-out walk. In the next at-bat, Rothenberg lined a single to center field which allowed Loperfido to score from second. With runners on first and second, Gallagher crushed a ball to left center field for a three-run shot to push Duke’s lead to 6-2. The home run marked Gallagher’s eighth of the season and his second consecutive contest with a long ball.
Duke returned to the dish to add a single tally in the fourth. With one down, Schreck lined a triple to right center, marking the first triple of his career. Loperfido used the next at-bat to send a single to right to plate Schreck and push the advantage to 7-2.
The Commodores began to chip away at the lead, plating a trio of runs across the fifth and sixth innings. Vanderbilt scored two in the fifth, as the inning began with a leadoff walk. One out later, catcher Phillip Clarke sent a ball over the right field wall for a two-run shot to cut the Duke lead to 7-4.
The Vanderbilt sixth began with a leadoff walk followed by a single to place runners on first and third. One batter later, a sacrifice fly scored one for the Commodores to make it a 7-5 ballgame after six innings of action.
The Blue Devils went on to score 11 runs unanswered across the seventh and eighth innings to cushion their lead. Gallagher led off the seventh a triple to center field before coming across to score on a sacrifice fly from Murray.
Duke exploded for 10 runs in the eighth on six hits to widen the margin and put the game out of reach. The offensive outburst was highlighted by a RBI single from Mervis along with a foursome of RBI doubles from Murray, Nichols, Loperfido and Mervis as the Blue Devils batted around in the frame. A total of 14 batters came to bat as Duke struck for double-digit runs to set the score at 18-5, the eventual final.
The two teams return to the diamond tomorrow evening at 8 p.m. CT for game two of the best-of-three series. The Blue Devils will look to sophomore right-hander Bryce Jarvis, while the Commodores will counter with a righty of their own in freshman Kumar Rocker. The game will air live on ESPNU with Mike Rooney and Rich Waltz on the call.
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