After surrendering 22 runs in a lackluster opening series against No. 15 Vanderbilt, the Duke pitching staff was ready to go for the home opener Wednesday afternoon, allowing only three hits and two runs to the N.C. Central.

The Blue Devils eased past the Eagles 8-2 at the Durham Bulls Athletic Park with the help of a five-run fifth inning and a steady performance on the mound. Duke head coach Chris Pollard elected to send sophomore Graeme Stinson to the mound for Duke’s first midweek game of the season. 

The southpaw pitched three hitless innings but struggled with his command, surrendering the first lead of the game in the third inning as a result of a walk and a wild pitch. 

But it didn’t take long for the Blue Devil lineup, featuring eight upperclassmen, to respond, taking advantage of a costly error by Eagles third baseman Andrew Valichka and posting five runs in the fifth. The inning was jumpstarted by a scorching leadoff double off the bat of junior center fielder Kennie Taylor, which was followed by two walks and a pair of outs to load the bases. Senior captain Max Miller broke the seal for the Blue Devils by putting the ball in play and forcing a run-scoring two-out error, but the big swing was delivered by the lone freshman in the lineup, Joey Loperfido, who crushed a two-RBI double to give Duke a lead it never relinquished.

If there was one spot up for grabs going into the season with such an upperclassmen-laden lineup, it was first base, which Pollard described as “a real conundrum.” Sophomores Erikson Nichols and Matt Mervis are in the heat of the competition, but it’s the freshman Joey Loperfido who has stood out early, collecting a team-high three RBIs and two stolen bases in Wednesday’s contest.

“Joey Loperfido is a young man who came in here as a middle infielder," Pollard said before the season. "But he’s so athletic that we’ve taken a look at him at first."

After surrendering a second run in the sixth inning, the Blue Devils took advantage of three more errors in the seventh and eighth, in addition to two swiped bags, a single and an RBI hit-by-pitch from Loperfido to expand their lead to 8-2. Both Jimmy Herron and Taylor also collected a pair of hits in the win. 

Duke will look to improve on its 2-2 start to the season in a weekend series beginning Friday afternoon at the DBAP when it plays host to a beleaguered Bucknell team that lost to No. 4 Arkansas 32-4.