Holding one of the top offenses in the country to six hits on back-to-back days is typically a good formula for winning a three-game series.
But there is no way to defend against walks and errors, and that ended up costing Duke a chance at its second straight series win to start off ACC play.
In Sunday’s rubber match, the Blue Devils were not able to overcome eight walks, five hit-by-pitches and four errors, dropping an 11-2 contest to Wake Forest at the Durham Bulls Athletic Park. The powerful Demon Deacon offense—which sports a .325 team batting average and averages nearly nine runs per contest—scored three runs on sacrifice flies in the sixth and seventh innings to break a 1-1 tie as the Blue Devils wasted a quality outing from starter Ryan Day.
The script was flipped on Saturday as Duke came back to even the series thanks to Wake Forest’s three costly defensive errors that that keyed a 7-3 Blue Devil win. The Demon Deacons pounded out 13 hits Friday—which featured five home—en route to an 8-4 victory in the series opener.
“It’s disappointing in a way because we’re a better club than what we’ve played through 22 games. I’d tell anybody that,” Duke head coach Chris Pollard said. “We were 1-1 in the sixth inning with a chance to come out of the first two ACC series with two series victories. But we’re not a very consistent club right now. We’ve shown flashes of being a team that we’re capable of being, but we haven’t done it in consistent stretches.”
Following freshman Adam Laskey’s six-inning, three-run performance in Saturday’s win, Day gave Duke (11-11, 3-3 in the ACC) its second straight strong start on the mound. The junior peppered the bottom of the strike zone and kept the dangerous Wake Forest bats at bay for five innings, yielding just five hits and one unearned run—which scored on an error, a wild pitch and a passed ball—to lower his ERA to 2.33.
Pollard said forearm stiffness kept Day from going back out for the sixth, and the Blue Devil bullpen got into trouble quickly in the sixth Sunday after hurling three scoreless frames Saturday. Duke had to use eight different relievers to record the final 12 outs, trying to find someone who could find the strike zone and stop the bleeding as a 1-1 game turned into a blowout.
“It was an ugly effort from that point forward on the mound,” Pollard said. “A lot of walks. A lot of hit by pitches. Passed balls, wild pitches, errors—it was disappointing and it was hard to watch.”
Six-foot-10 southpaw James Ziemba was the first arm out of the pen for Duke, entering in the top of the sixth to face a pair of lefties in Gavin Sheets and Ben Breazeale. Ziemba retired Sheets to start the inning but gave up a one-out double to Breazeale on a hanging slider, prompting Pollard to bring in Nick Hendrix, his top reliever, to try and work through the bottom of the Demon Deacon lineup.
Hendrix—who threw 21 pitches in Saturday’s game—was not sharp with his control and loaded the bases with a hit-by-pitch and a walk before ultimately limiting the damage to just a single run on a sac fly from Keegan Maronpot.
“It’s no secret that Nick Hendrix is our top setup guy to get to Jack Labosky out of the bullpen,” Pollard said. “We knew after [Breazeale’s double] we wanted to go to Hendrix, and we did. He battled, I thought he did a good job of minimizing. I don’t have any issues whatsoever with his outing.”
In the seventh, Wake Forest (15-6, 4-2) pushed its lead to 4-1—still without scoring a hit. Pollard used two more left-handers, Graeme Stinson and Bill Chillari, in the frame, but the duo combined to load the bases with three walks and the Demon Deacons cashed in with sacrifice flies from Stuart Fairchild and Sheets.
The eighth inning was not any kinder to Duke, and Wake Forest piled on four more runs against Karl Blum and Matt Mervis to put the game decisively out of reach.
“We can put the guys in the ballgame that can throw strikes,” Pollard said. “There’s enough guys who have shown they can throw strikes that those guys are going to pitch. Guys that don’t throw strikes aren’t going to pitch—it’s that simple.”
The Blue Devils have one mid-week contest this week against Maryland Eastern-Shore Tuesday before heading up to Charlottesville for their first ACC road series of the year against No. 13 Virginia next weekend.