The 2012 season ended in disappointment for the Blue Devils. Duke finished last in the ACC with a 9-21 conference record.
And now former captain Marcus Stroman, Duke’s first first-round draft pick in school history, was suspended by the MLB for taking a banned substance. To cap off a the season, head coach Sean McNally resigned after seven years at the helm of the program.
The Blue Devils’ most logical solution was to start over, and that’s exactly what they did with the hire of head coach Chris Pollard and overhauling the entire coaching staff.
Pollard’s Blue Devils will take the field for the first time beginning Friday as they travel to face No. 15 Florida in Gainesville, Fla. at McKethan Stadium.
“Every single [coach] is new to Duke, and we’ve had a great first six months,” Pollard said. “Duke is a great university, and on top of that, our kids have been great. They’ve worked very hard… they’ve really embraced the style of play we’re trying to make a hallmark of this program, but we’re still very much a work in progress.”
The Blue Devils are led by a trio of senior catchers—Jeff Kremer, Al Morris, and Ryan Munger, who was voted captain for the second year in a row. Munger, who has also seen time on the mound and at first base, is joined by junior co-captain Mike Rosenfeld, another catcher who, last season, distinguished himself as one of the best in the ACC. Rosenfeld led Duke with a .312 batting average, tallying a team-high 53 hits and seven stolen bases. He ranked in the top 25 in the ACC in batting average, slugging percentage and triples.
“We’re certainly excited,” Rosenfeld told GoDuke.com. “The feeling this year is certainly much more laid back. Everyone’s just really excited, the new team policies are great and there’s just a lot more looseness on the field. We’re really refreshed, and I think we’re just ready to take the field and get after it in Florida.”
Despite only having three seniors on the roster, the Blue Devils bring more experience than ever to their 2013 squad. A key returning player could be utility man Chris Marconcini, who was forced to sit out his sophomore season due to injury after an exceptional freshman year, during which he led the team in runs scored, home runs and runs batted in. Marconcini will split time between first base and the outfield, where he will be joined by sophomore Andrew Istler and Kremer.
Duke, however, will have to make up much lost ground in terms of pitching. The departure of starter Stroman and reliever David Putnam will shake up the Blue Devils’ rotation, but Pollard hopes his guys will step up on the mound.
“You just can’t replace guys like Stroman and Putnam,” Pollard said. “But we’re fortunate that we return some key pieces, and you try to build around those. We’ve got some new guys… but it’s nice to have some key returners who have some experience under their belt.”
Sophomore lefty Trent Swart and junior righties Robert Huber and Drew van Orden are poised to round out the starting pitchesrs, with freshman James Marvel also getting the chance to earn a spot in the rotation. Pollard also hopes that two freshmen pitchers, lefty Nick Hendrix and righty Michael Matuella, will make an immediate impact as new members of the bullpen.
These Blue Devils will be thrown in the fire against the Gators, who reached the College World Series in the last two seasons. Florida, led by junior righty John Crawford, a member of Team USA’s 2012 Collegiate National Team. Crawford is coming off a 2012 season during which he collected a 6-2 record with 3.13 ERA, highlighted by a no-hitter against Bethune-Cookman. Crawford is projected to face Swart to open up the series Friday.
“Florida has been one of the best teams in the country over the last few years,” Pollard said. “But at the same time, they’re going to have a lot of new faces in their lineup. We’re seeing Crawford tomorrow night, one of the best there is, but then they’re bringing out two young guys. They’ve got pieces of the puzzle they’re figuring out, but, without question, they’re still one of the best teams in the country.”