Sports

No. 18 East Carolina uses fifth-inning eruption to blow past Duke baseball

After having their three-game win streak snapped in a loss to Virginia Tech Sunday, the Blue Devils looked to grab a win at home against a team that has had their number lately. 

Despite getting off to a strong start, Duke was unable to get back in the win column.

Trailing by three runs after four innings, No. 18 East Carolina rallied with a five-run fifth inning to defeat the Blue Devils 9-4 Tuesday evening at the Durham Bulls Athletic Park. The matchup was moved up a day due to inclement weather, but it did not prove to make a difference as the Pirates recorded their 15th consecutive win against Duke. 

The Blue Devils jumped out to an early 3-0 lead with five hits in the first two innings to knock East Carolina starter Hunter Hood out of the game.  

But the game changed in the top of the fifth inning, as Duke let the Pirates get back in the contest and take control of the ballgame for good. 

East Carolina began the inning with three consecutive hits off Blue Devil starter Graeme Stinson and capitalized on the struggles of relievers Karl Blum and James Ziemba to blow the game open. 

“The fifth inning, that’s one of those tip-your-hat moments,” Duke head coach Chris Pollard told GoDuke.com. “The leadoff at bat was a good at bat, a solid single to right field. Then you had the chopper that bounced over Justin [Bellinger]’s head then you had the push bunt. “East Carolina is absolutely one of the top 20 teams in the country and they showed it today.”

Stinson cruised through four scoreless innings for Duke (10-9) before running into trouble with hits by Bryant Packard and T.J. Riles. A bunt single by Dusty Baker then pushed across the Pirates' first run before Stinson retired the next East Carolina batter and gave way to Blum.

Blum struggled to find his command out of the gate and left the game without recording an out as he issued a pair of walks and wild pitches. Ziemba was next on the mound for the Blue Devils and threw two wild pitches of his own, each allowing a runner to score, before finally getting Pirate third baseman Eric Tyler to fly out to end the inning.  

As a whole, the Blue Devil bullpen allowed six runs Tuesday, with Ziemba allowing one more in the top of the sixth, and graduate student Nick Hendrix and freshman Matt Mervis combining to allow three more runs in the seventh and eight innings. After allowing just 12 runs in a stretch of eight consecutive home games beginning Feb. 26th, Duke’s pitching has unraveled, ceding 21 runs in its last three home games. 

On the other side of the ball, after scoring early, the Blue Devils were held in check by the Piratesbullpen. Pitcher Chris Holba acted as a stopper for East Carolina (13-9) and received the win after pitching five scoreless innings and allowing just three Blue Devil baserunners.

“In all honesty, Holba was very good,” Pollard told GoDuke.com. “Sometimes you have to be willing to give credit where credit is due and I thought that young man pitched outstanding. We were on our toes. We had some really good at bats we strung together against Hood, then he came in and just recaptured momentum for his team.”

Duke was able to scratch a run across in the ninth inning after graduate student Jalen Phillips crossed home on a fielding error, but it was too little too late. The bats were silenced overall, as the team had just one extra-base hit on the evening and struck out a grand total of 10 times in the loss.

The Blue Devils will look to avoid a three-game losing streak when they begin a three-game set with Wake Forest Friday at 6 p.m. at the Durham Bulls Athletic Park. 


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