Head coach Chris Pollard’s Blue Devils faced unprecedented expectations before flying to Nashville to face perennial powerhouse Vanderbilt last week. After being outscored 22-7 in the three games, Duke saw its name vanish from the preseason polls it appeared in after only a week. 

This weekend, however, the Blue Devils put their talents on full display and lived up to their preseason hype.

Duke came back with a bang, going 4-0 this week, including a 13-5 win Sunday at the Durham Bulls Athletic Park to cap a three-game sweep of Bucknell. After opening the week with an 8-2 win against N.C. Central, Duke cruised past the Bison to send them home with an 0-6 record. 

“We’ve got a veteran team, and we felt like we needed to go out and be the ones applying the pressure,” Pollard said. “I think we weren’t perfect with that this weekend, but we got better with that as the weekend went on.”

Sophomore southpaw Adam Laskey took care of business and more in the series opener Friday night, posting 10 strikeouts in a 7-0 effort against Bucknell. After Laskey made his mark Friday, game two was all about Zack Kone, who went 3-for-4 with a go-ahead grand slam in the third inning and an RBI double in the eighth to lead Duke (5-2) to a 6-4 victory. 

“Zack, coming back from the Cape Cod league this summer, made a decision to make a pretty dramatic adjustment with his swing and his stance, and immediately in the fall, started to see dividends with increased power,” Pollard said. “We anticipated seeing better power numbers out of him this year. He’s got a very different swing than his first two years on campus.”

Pollard sent senior Mitch Stallings to the mound to close the series on an overcast Sunday afternoon at the DBAP. Despite working out of a jam with two runners on in the first, the veteran southpaw struggled with his command and was tagged for four runs in 4 1/3 innings of work, including a towering home run over the Tobacco Road restaurant in left field by outfielder JohnPaul Bell. 

After falling behind 2-0 in the third, none other than the senior captain, Max Miller, got the Blue Devils going with his patience at the plate. He drew a one-out walk and stole a base before coming around to score on an RBI single up the middle by Joey Loperfido. The rally continued for the Blue Devils, as Kone roped his second home run in as many days, this time a three-run shot over the left-field wall.

Only an inning later, Loperfido returned to the plate with a bases-clearing triple in the gap before coming around to score on an errant throw. The freshman finished the game going 3-for-3 with three runs and five RBIs. Additionally, after hitting his first career home run Tuesday, freshman catcher Michael Rothenberg smashed his second dinger to extend the lead in the sixth.

“If you go back to the beginning of the fall, Loperfido’s been one of our best on-base percentage and OPS guys over a pretty big sample size,” Pollard said.  “Michael Rothenberg really turned the corner offensively in the preseason.... Both those guys going into the season were giving us quality at-bats, and we feel good about where both of those guys are offensively.”

In addition to promising contributions from the freshmen, Kone added three hits, and designated hitter Michael Smiciklas added a pair of hits and runs as well. 

Duke will take on N.C. Central again on Tuesday before hosting Cornell for a three-game series next weekend, with Pollard looking to see more from his bullpen. 

“We need to continue to build depth. We were able to build pitch counts for our starters this weekend," Pollard said. "Now we need to continue to build depth in the bullpen and depth in the bench.”