DURHAM, N.C. - Dennis O'Grady hit a walk-off single in the bottom of the ninth to give Duke a 2-1 win over North Carolina A&T on Tuesday evening at Jack Coombs Field.
With the bases loaded and the score tied at 1-1 in the bottom of the ninth, O'Grady cracked a deep fly ball to the left field warning track for his second hit of the game. His RBI knock drove in Will Piwnica-Worms, who hit a two-strike double to spark the late rally.
Senior left-hander Christopher Manno (2-2) earned the win after entering the game with runners on first and third with no outs in the top of the ninth and striking out three straight hitters to escape the jam. With the score tied at 1-1 and the go-ahead run at third base, Manno entered the game and got three straight Aggies to go down swinging with just 14 pitches, 11 of which were strikes.
North Carolina A&T starter Nick Oelker (2-5) took the hard-luck loss after surrendering just one earned run over a career-long 8.1 inning complete game. Oelker allowed an unearned run in the first inning but shut out the Blue Devils until O'Grady's walk-off knock in the bottom of the ninth. The sophomore right-hander allowed just six hits and three walks while striking out five Duke hitters.
Duke starter Eric Pfisterer came away with a no-decision after putting together his third straight solid outing. The 6-2 left-hander gave up just one run over 7.1 innings while striking out seven and walking two. Over his last three starts, Pfisterer has logged a 2.22 ERA over 24.1 innings while striking out 21 and walking just six during that span.
The Blue Devil bullpen duo of Manno and senior Jonathan Foreman took over for Pfisterer in the eighth and bailed the Blue Devils out of two jams. Foreman took over for Pfisterer with the go-ahead run on first base in the eighth and recorded two straight outs before Manno bailed Foreman out with his three-strikeout ninth inning.
Duke's six hits came from three players as O'Grady, Piwnica-Worms and senior Ryan McCurdy all cracked two hits apiece. McCurdy reached base three times in five trips and started the ninth inning rally with a walk.
Piwnica-Worms drove in Duke's first run of the game with an RBI single in the first single. Following a failed pickoff attempt that moved McCurdy from first to second in the opening frame, Piwnica-Worms laced a single into center field that sent McCurdy toward third base. McCurdy, who also singled to start the scoring sequence, got the green light from head coach Sean McNally while rounding third and came in to beat the throw for Duke's first run.
Pfisterer protected Duke's 1-0 lead over his first four innings, allowing just three hits during that span. He got into a jam in the second with runners at the corners with two outs, but got North Carolina A&T catcher Lester Riverbark to strike out swinging for the third out.
The Aggies plated the tying run in the top of the fifth, however, on a first-and-third double steal. Consecutive singles from Kelvin Freeman and Riverbark set up the play, which saw Riverbark take off for second with two outs, only to stop halfway when McCurdy fired a strike down to the bag. Second baseman Dennis O'Grady caught the throw on the bag and chased Riverbark back to first before spinning and firing back to third where Freeman was a few steps off the bag. Freeman took off for the plate on the throw and came up safe when the throw from third baseman Eric Brady was just wide as he tried to fire it around the base runner.
The pitcher's duel continued into the eighth when Pfisterer was finally relieved after tossing 7.1 innings of one-run ball. With the game tied at 1-1, Pfisterer left the go-ahead run on first base in the hands of Foreman, who retired the first two batters he saw to end the threat. Foreman struck out three-hitter Nick Rogers for the second out before O'Grady recorded the final out by leaping to snatch a line drive over his head that came off the bat of cleanup hitter Xavier Maclin.
The Aggies came within 90 feet of breaking the 1-1 tie in the top of the ninth, but had that rally cut short by Manno. Both Marcus Riley and Alex Grubb reached base on Foreman to start the inning with Grubb connecting for a hit-and-run single with no outs. With the runners left at the corners following the single, Manno entered the game and got Freeman, Riverbark and nine-hitter Mark Nales to all go down swinging. The senior came through in the pressure situation, despite allowing Riverbark to steal second base on the third strike to Freeman.
Duke's bats finally went to work in the bottom of the ninth and got two walks and a pair of hits, including O'Grady's walk-off knock. McCurdy and Piwnica-Worms both reached base to start the inning with McCurdy drawing a walk and Piwnica-Worms knocking a two-strike double down the left field line. From there, Will Currier drew an intentional walk and Jeremy Gould hit a ground ball that the Aggies nearly converted into a double play. North Carolina A&T got the run at the plate for the first out of the inning, but could not retire Gould who just beat the throw at first. With the bases still loaded, O'Grady then mashed his fly ball to deep left field to turn the wheel and send in the winning run.
Up next for the Blue Devils is a trip to High Point, N.C., where they will face the High Point Panthers on Wednesday, April 28, at 6 p.m. Duke will start senior right-hander Michael Ness (1-3, 5.30 ERA) opposite High Point lefty Al Yevoli (1-2, 9.29 ERA).
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