Duke traveled to Charlottesville hitting the best they had all season, but Virginia showed why it is the top-ranked team in the country. The No. 1 Cavaliers (36-3, 16-2 in the ACC) exploded for 31 runs in three games and swept the Blue Devils (20-19, 4-14) to strengthen their lead atop the ACC.
Despite notching double-digit hits in seven of their past eight games, Duke’s bats went cold against a very talented Virginia pitching rotation, which ranks among the top 10 in the country in ERA and strikeouts per game.
Game one was the Danny Hultzen show. The Cavalier southpaw struck out nine over seven scoreless innings with very little trouble, retiring 13 of the last 14 Blue Devil batters he faced. Duke starting pitcher Dillon Haviland looked ready for the test early, retiring the first seven batters with only 20 pitches, but the wheels started to come off in the third inning, as seven different Virginia batters tabbed at least one RBI in a 10-0 win.
“Danny Hultzen has done that to a lot of ball clubs this year,” head coach Sean McNally said. “We faced a pitcher that is a [potential] top five pick in the draft.”
While the pitching struggled in the opening game of the series, senior starting pitcher Dennis O’Grady showed in Sunday’s first game that Duke does have some talent on the mound. O’Grady, who struggled the last time he pitched at Davenport Field, paced the Blue Devils, giving up only two runs over seven innings of work.
The Cavaliers held a 2-0 lead until pinch-hitter Mark Tatera hit a two-run double in the top of the eighth to tie the game at 2-2 and eventually send it to extra innings. That was the end of the offensive rally, however, as Virginia relief pitcher Branden Kline gave up only one more hit in the final three innings of the game.
Marcus Stroman pitched well in relief for O’Grady, escaping the ninth and 10th innings unscathed. John Hicks finally got to the hard-throwing Stroman in the 11th inning, though, with a walk-off single, securing a 3-2 victory.
Although the team was unable to grab the win, McNally couldn’t have been happier with O’Grady.
“That was a special game for Dennis O’Grady,” McNally said. “He pitched poorly here as a sophomore and it meant a lot for him to come back and pitch well. He threw better than I have ever seen him throw.”
The Blue Devils finally appeared to find some offensive rhythm in game three, notching 12 total hits. Unfortunately, the pitching staff was unable to follow suit, allowing 18 earned runs. Virginia held a double-digit lead in the fourth inning thanks to a balanced offensive attack, led by John Barr, who had five RBIs.
Jeff Kremer matched a career-high with four hits, which made him the first Blue Devil to reach 50 hits this season. Jordan Betts also had two RBIs and Joe Pedevillano scored three runs, but it wasn’t enough, as the Cavaliers completed the sweep with an 18-4 win.
“To win the series we needed to play at our best, and we [only] did that in one of the three games,” McNally said. “We expected to play better, but we have to play consistently to win.”
Duke will be back in action Tuesday at Jack Coombs Field with a game against UNC-Greensboro.