DURHAM, N.C. – The Duke Blue Devils will face the top-ranked team in the country this weekend when they travel to Charlottesville, Va., for a three-game series against No. 1 Virginia at Davenport Field.
Virginia (33-3, 13-2 ACC) has one of the best pitching staffs in the nation and ranks among the top 10 in the country in ERA, hits allowed per game, walks allowed per game and strikeouts per game. The Blue Devil offense, however is on its hottest streak of the season, having knocked double-digit hits in seven of the last eight games.
Duke (20-16, 4-11 ACC) is hitting .331 during that eight-game span while averaging 11 hits per contest. Eight players – including team hits, average and on base leader Jeff Kremer – are hitting .333 or better during the run. Duke’s power numbers have also increased, as 23 of Duke’s 91 hits have gone for extra bases, including four home runs over the last four games.
Freshman first baseman and outfielder Chris Marconcini has found his power stroke of late, hitting .471 with three doubles, a homer and six RBI over his last five games. Marconcini, a 6-5, 200-pound native of Brentwood, Tenn., has emerged as one of the top freshmen in the ACC this year and ranks second in the league with 19 extra-base hits and first on the team with 32 RBI, 27 runs scored, 10 doubles, six triples, three homers and nine multi-RBI games.
Duke will face arguably the best pitcher in the country on Friday in Virginia lefthander Danny Hultzen (7-0). Hultzen, a junior lefthander, has struck out 90 batters and walked just 10 through 54.1 innings this year on the way to a 1.33 ERA. But while Hultzen boasts a 27-2 record in his college career, one of those losses came at the hands of the Blue Devils in 2009. In the team’s last trip to Charlottesville, Va., the Blue Devils touched up Hultzen for six runs over 5.1 innings on the way to an 11-4 win in the series opener.
Only a handful of Blue Devils remain from the team that beat Hultzen in 2009, but two of those – senior Dennis O'Grady and junior Will Piwnica-Worms – have had success at the plate against the Cavaliers. Piwnica-Worms boasts a .296 average in seven career games against Virginia, while O’Grady sports a .294 average. Both of those Blue Devils have homered against the Cavaliers, as has sophomore second baseman Marcus Stroman who owns a .286 average and a .857 slugging clip in the two games in which he has faced Virginia.
Following the three-game series against Virginia, Duke will host UNC Greensboro on Tuesday, April 19, and then head to Tallahassee, Fla., on April 22-24, for a three-game series against No. 15 Florida State.
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