Duke baseball holds on late for eighth straight win
The long ball shined in the Blue Devils' eighth straight victory.
Four home runs were hit between Duke and Wake Forest as the Blue Devils secured a 6-5 victory Saturday evening in Winston Salem, N.C.
Duke led 6-0 heading into the bottom of the eighth inning, but with two outs the Demon Deacons knocked a pair of two-run home runs to bring Wake Forest within two. Senior Robert Huber allowed one more run with two outs in the ninth inning before closing the door for good.
“It's a ballpark that plays very small and it played small today,” Duke head coach Chris Pollard said. “It’s one of those situations where no lead is safe in this place. A lot of balls that would not have threatened in Coombs [Duke's home ballpark] were leaving the ballpark today. You know that even though it’s 6-0, it feels a lot closer than that.”
The Blue Devils (27-17, 14-9 in the ACC) were led by another strong start from junior Trent Swart. In his longest outing since injuring his forearm earlier this season, the junior allowed six hits and one walk while racking up nine strikeouts in seven strong innings of work.
Wake Forest (26-20, 12-11) tried to mount a rally against Swart in the seventh inning by putting its first two batters on base, but the right-hander retired the next three Demon Deacons to escape the inning unscathed.
“[Swart] pitched great,” Pollard said. “ [He] had tremendous command of all three pitches [and] did a great job of keeping them off balance. I was especially proud of the job he did in the seventh. After giving up two singles to start the inning, he retired the next three guys: strikeout, strikeout, and then a weak ground out back to the mound. I thought it was a very, very good effort.”
When the bullpen came in to relieve Swart, though, things started to get a little shaky for the Blue Devils. After two quick groundouts to start the eighth inning, redshirt sophomore Conner Stevens gave up a double to first baseman Matt Conway and then a home run to second baseman Nate Mondou after getting ahead in the count 0-2.
Following the home run, Stevens allowed a single and was promptly replaced by sophomore Nick Hendrix. But on a full count, Hendrix gave up a round-tripper to shortstop Conor Keniry before striking out the next batter to end the inning and stop the bleeding.
The Demon Deacons added one more run with two outs in the bottom of the ninth to trim the lead down to 6-5, but Huber was able to secure the fly ball he needed to end the game.
Offensively, the Duke bats wasted no time making noise, as the Blue Devils pushed across four runs in the top of the first inning. With the bases loaded and one out, first baseman Aaron Cohn singled to plate one runner and designated hitter Matt Berezo followed with another single to make it 2-0. With the bases still loaded, catcher Mike Rosenfeld—playing in his first ACC series since coming back from an undisclosed injury earlier this week—brought home two more runs with a single to complete the scoring in the frame.
Senior third baseman Jordan Betts had another solid day at the plate, blasting two solo home runs in the sixth and eighth innings to give Duke some insurance runs that would later prove to be crucial.
“We swung the bats really well,” Pollard said. “We probably had a chance to push a few more across the plate [and] we left 11 guys on base, but we hit a lot of balls hard. In fact, even in addition to the hits and the extra-base hits, we hit a lot of balls right on the button, right at people. So I thought we did a great job of barreling the baseball all day long.”
With Sunday’s series finale looming and a ninth straight victory on the line, Duke will send sophomore Michael Matuella to the mound to face the Demon Deacons. Matuella has a stellar 1.59 ERA in seven starts so far this year and averages nearly six strike outs per game.
The eight-game winning streak is the longest tear the Blue Devils have pieced together since the 2010 season. Duke has not had a winning streak reach nine games since a 12-game winning streak back in 2008.