The offense put the pieces together in its previous game, lighting up Richmond for 10 runs, but it could not solve Luke Weaver and the Florida State pitching staff Thursday evening.
The Blue Devils dropped the series opener against No. 4 Florida State 3-0. Led by the power arm of the right-handed Weaver, the Seminole pitchers baffled Duke batters all night long, holding them to just six hits. Blue Devil starter Andrew Istler also had a solid start, allowing only three runs and six hits and striking out five in seven innings of work. But it would not be enough for Duke.
“It was a terrific start [from Istler],” head coach Chris Pollard said. “He gave us everything we were looking for and it was certainly a start that’s good enough to win the baseball game.
Istler’s only hiccup came in the bottom of the third inning. After giving up a well-struck double to second baseman John Sansone to lead off the inning, Istler rebounded by striking out the next batter he faced, but then surrendered a single through the left side to catcher Danny De La Calle.
Istler then walked Seminole right fielder Josh Delph and gave up a weak single to designated hitter Casey Smit and a ground ball to left fielder DJ Stewart to allow Florida State to run the score up to 3-0.
After the rough stretch, the junior settled down, allowing only two hits and a walk during the next four innings without a runner advancing past second base.
"[Istler] put four pitches in the strike zone, and they really only hit one baseball hard that was the double buy Sansone to lead off the third," Pollard said. "The rest of the hits were essentially soft contact—seeing-eye ground balls, a soft flare that fell in. I thought he pitched outstanding.”
Unfortunately for Duke (31-22, 15-13 ACC), despite one of Istler’s best starts this season, the Seminole (40-13, 20-8) pitchers one-upped him.
Weaver, a preseason All-American, tossed one of his greatest outings of the season against the Blue Devils, allowing only five hits and a walk and striking out four in his seven innings of work.
The junior did not allow a runner to advance past first base until a leadoff double by Duke third baseman Jordan Betts in the top of the fourth. He would retire the next three batters he faced and did not allow another base runner until the seventh inning.
After six strong innings, it appeared Weaver had run out of gas in the seventh inning when he allowed three straight singles with one out to load the bases. The Blue Devils seemed ready solve their clutch-hitting woes, but Weaver played Houdini to escape the inning.
Weaver surrendered a line drive to right fielder Ryan Deitrich, but Seminole shortstop Justin Gonzalez made a leaping play to rob an RBI single from Deitrich and Weaver was able to get Duke shortstop Kenny Koplove—now batting below .200 on the year—to ground out to end the inning without any damage.
“Weaver was very good,” Pollard said. “It was one of the better performances I’d seen this year. I thought it took us a little bit to get adjusted to the shadows that this park has in that time of day and that played a roll but I don’t want to take anything away from his outing. I thought he pitched a very good ballgame.”
Back from a recent suspension for stealing crab legs from a local Publix, Florida State closer and 2013 Heisman Trophy winner Jameis Winston retired all three batters he faced in the ninth inning, dominating the Blue Devils much in the same way he did in the ACC Championship in December.
Duke was without first baseman Aaron Cohn Thursday after he injured himself during practice Wednesday. Cohn had established himself in the middle of the Blue Devil lineup batting .274 on the year and collecting 25 RBIs, good for fourth-best among Duke batters. He is currently listed as day-to-day and it is uncertain when he will return.
Trying to rebound quickly, the Blue Devils will send its ace Drew Van Orden to the mound Friday night against the Seminoles. Van Orden is 5-4 on the year with a 3.30 ERA and will attempt to bounce back from a rough start against Miami last Friday in which he gave up five earned runs in 6.2 innings of work.