DURHAM, N.C. – The Duke baseball team used a late offensive effort to push past Virginia Tech, 9-5, Sunday afternoon at Jack Coombs Field on Duke’s campus. With the win, the Blue Devils clinch the series victory over the Hokies (21-16, 6-12 ACC) and improve to 20-16 on the season, including an 8-10 mark in conference play.
It was an offensive affair in Sunday’s series finale as both teams traded runs throughout the early innings. For the second straight contest, Virginia Tech struck first, plating a trio of runs in the first to grab the early lead before Duke scored a pair of runs in the home half to make it a one-run game. The Blue Devils used a three-run inning in the second to take the lead, but the Hokies would respond with two runs in the top of the third to even things at five. The two teams relied on solid bullpen efforts to keep the score knotted up through the next three frames before Duke broke through with four runs across the seventh and eighth to take the lead and secure the win.
The Duke bullpen shined in game three, leaning on the duo of senior Hunter Davis and sophomore Thomas Girard, who combined to hold Virginia Tech scoreless across the final 6.2 frames while allowing only two hits. Davis worked a career-high tying 4.1 innings, allowing only one hit while collecting four strikeouts on a season-high 68 pitches. Girard (1-4) covered the remaining 2.1 frames, yielding only one hit while recording a career-high six punchouts to earn his first career win.
“(Hunter Davis) was terrific,” said head coach Chris Pollard. “He was also efficient, which was huge because we needed him to get as far as he could. I’m incredibly proud of him. It was a step-up effort for his team and that’s a captain doing what captains are supposed to do. (Thomas Girard) was just unbelievable and had electric stuff. That was as dominant of a closeout that I’ve seen from anybody that’s worn a Duke uniform since I’ve been here.”
The Hokies registered four hits in the first, resulting in three runs to grab the early lead. After double to begin the game, the Virginia Tech leadoff man advanced to third on a wild pitch two outs later. The Hokies then used three consecutive singles to complete the scoring sequence, starting with a single to right field to cross the game’s first run. After a single up the middle placed runners on first and third, a third consecutive single scored the inning’s second run. With runners on the corners, a double steal attempt allowed another run to cross to give Virginia Tech a 3-0 lead after a half-inning of play.
The Blue Devils responded quickly, tallying a pair of runs in the home half to make it a one-run contest. The inning began with a leadoff double from sophomore Joey Loperfido before junior Matt Mervis reached on a fielder’s choice to place runners on first and second. One out later, junior Chase Cheek reached on a two-out walk to set up a RBI single from fellow junior Erikson Nichols to score two and set the score at 3-2 after one full.
Duke returned in the second frame to put up a three-spot to move ahead and grab the advantage. With one down, back-to-back singles from sophomore Michael Rothenberg and Loperfido placed runners on first and second. One out later, Mervis lined a RBI single up the middle to score one before advancing to second on the attempted throw home. With runners on second and third, graduate student Kyle Gallagher capitalized on the RBI opportunity, sending a single through the left side to plate a pair and give the Blue Devils a 5-3 lead.
Virginia Tech answered back in the very next half, scoring two runs to even things at five apiece. The Hokie leadoff man began things with an infield single before advancing into scoring position on a wild pitch. A double into the right-center gap allowed one run to cross for Virginia Tech, before a RBI single up the middle scored a second run to tie the game at 5-5.
The two teams went scoreless across the next three frames before the Blue Devils plated four runs across the seventh and eighth innings to retake the lead. With one down in the seventh, Gallagher sent a solo shot to dead center to break the tie and put Duke ahead, 6-5.
The Blue Devils added three insurances in the eighth to widen the gap. After a one-out single from freshman Ethan Murray, Rothenberg connected on his team-leading fifth home run of the season with a two-run shot to right-center to extend the lead. One out later, senior Kennie Taylor joined in on the action with a solo homer to center field to set the score at 9-5, the eventual final.
Eight of the nine Duke starters registered at least one hit in the contest, highlighted by multi-hit efforts from Loperfido, Mervis, Gallagher, Murray and Rothenberg. Gallagher added a team-high three RBI, while Nichols and Rothenberg each contributed two RBI apiece.
The Blue Devils return to action Tuesday, welcoming No. 11 Texas Tech to Durham Bulls Athletic Park for a rematch of last year’s NCAA Lubbock Super Regionals. The two teams are set for a 6 p.m. first pitch at the DBAP, with coverage airing live on ACC Network Extra.
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