Head coach Chris Pollard and his army of veterans have Duke on the verge of something special. Although the 11th-ranked Blue Devils have been tearing through their competition, the surging club cannot overlook a Gardner-Webb team that has collected some impressive nonconference wins already.

The doubleheader will be played Sunday afternoon beginning at 1 at Jack Coombs Field, where the Blue Devils will return to campus as a top-25 team for the eighth consecutive week.

Pollard has resurrected a program that has been in the dust for decades, and the product has been nothing short of sensational. The Blue Devils had finished only seven seasons with a winning record in ACC play since joining the conference in 1954. This year, the Blue Devils have already locked up an ACC tournament berth with a 15-8 record in conference play and have their sights set on bigger things.

Pollard attributes a large part of the team’s success to veteran leadership and maturity. 

“I am very, very proud of our leadership, which has made this a tougher team,” Pollard said. “It’s a mature ability to stay in the moment and continue to compete one pitch at a time, and have a next-pitch mentality that makes this a special group.”

With their biggest series of the year—against No. 5 North Carolina—only a week away, it’s critical that the Blue Devils (33-11) maintain that day-by-day approach with a Gardner-Webb team on its way to Durham that is more than capable of crashing Pollard’s party.

The Runnin’ Bulldogs (26-20) are equipped with a lineup that has given opposing pitchers headaches all season, featuring five batters hitting upwards of .300. The Bulldogs are led by a trio of star-studded juniors, starting with jack-of-all-trades-outfielder Chris Clary, who boasts a .361 batting average with eight home runs and 16 stolen bases. Just behind Clary is Corey Howard hitting .349 and Mason Fox at .314. Gardner-Webb gets its leadership, however, from senior infielder Mickey Dugan, who has collected seven home runs with a .339 average himself.

Runnin' Bulldog head coach Rusty Stroupe has seen his squad collect 46 home runs on the season, 13 coming from Chandler Redmond in the middle of the lineup. However, it will face a Duke pitching staff that has surrendered only 25 long balls thus far. 

The Blue Devils’ success has come largely due to sensational production out of the bullpen, specifically stopper Ethan DeCaster and closer Jack Labosky—who have surrendered only a single run in 59 innings. Additionally, Labosky and DeCaster have a combined 52:5 strikeout-to-walk ratio, giving almost no free bases to opposing lineups while still maintaining a strong swing-and-miss rate.

Duke's lineup is headed by freshman first baseman Joey Loperfido, who has started all 44 games and is swinging the bat at a .324 mark. Additionally, Pollard has gotten great production out of catcher Chris Proctor and outfielder Jimmy Herron. In addition to their efforts at the plate, the three have done major damage on the basepaths, combining for 39 stolen bases on 45 attempts. 

Duke will likely need this kind of production out of its lineup if it wants to avoid being added to a lengthy list of impressive nonconference victories for Gardner-Webb, which includes North Carolina and Wake Forest.