After Towson came to Durham Bulls Athletic Park and rallied past Duke late for wins in the first two games of the series, it was only fitting that the Blue Devils came back and stole game three.
“[Towson] had an answer every time we scored,” head coach Chris Pollard said. “But ultimately we got the last shot in.”
After falling to the Tigers 9-3 and 6-5 in games one and two, Duke avoided the sweep with an 8-6 win Sunday.
The starting trio for the Blue Devils (5-5), however, ended their streak of dominance after only giving up one earned run against Bucknell last weekend. Sophomore lefty Trent Swart and junior righties Drew Van Orden and Robert Huber gave up a collective nine runs against the Tigers this weekend.
After Swart held Towson (6-3) to only one run during five innings in game one, lowering his season ERA to 1.50, Van Orden and Huber surrendered four runs each in games two and three.
“In general, I thought we were pitching behind a lot,” junior catcher Mike Rosenfeld said. “We were in deep counts, and our starters had to throw a lot more pitches than they should have.”
The bullpen didn’t fare much better. Sophomore lefty Remy Janco took over for Swart in the sixth inning of game one with a 2-1 lead, but soon gave up three runs, three walks and one hit in only 0.2 innings of work. Sophomore righty Dalton Brown closed out the sixth in relief of Janco, but surrendered three runs himself off five hits. Towson tacked on two more runs off junior righty Mark Lumpa in an offensive rout.
The pattern continued into game two, when Duke carried a 5-4 lead into the top of the eighth. After Duke freshman lefty Nick Hendrix tossed a scoreless seventh, the Tigers scored two off sophomore righty Andrew Istler. Towson senior lefty Mike Ryan earned the save by retiring six straight Blue Devils to close out the game.
“The guys were real pissed off,” Rosenfeld said. “They’re a great team, but they were tough losses to handle in both games.”
Duke was hungry going in to game three, but saw themselves trailing 4-3 at the seventh inning stretch. This time, however, the tables were turned.
“Coach always says to get off the mat and throw a punch back,” Rosenfeld said.
It was Rosenfeld who dealt the Tigers their knockout blow. After Towson junior lefty Kyle Paul gave senior right fielder Jeff Kremer a free pass, Rosenfeld tied the game up with a double to right. Istler then singled Rosenfeld home, putting the Blue Devils ahead 5-4. Duke added three more runs in the bottom of the eighth before Hendrix closed out the game and earned his first-career save.
“I thought our bullpen threw very well [Sunday],” Pollard said. “It’s like getting back on the horse when you get thrown off, you just get back up and you get on. I thought Hendrix threw the ball great all weekend, and we were really solid [today].”
Rosenfeld, too, had a great weekend, continuing his torrid start to the season. The co-captain’s batting average rose to .457 with a 9-for-11 performance against the Tigers, including going a perfect 3-for-3 with a walk in game three.
“I’m just seeing the ball well right now,” he said. “Streaks go up and down all the time, so hopefully it stays up and I keep hitting.”
And hopefully for the Blue Devils, they keep up their gritty style of play as the season continues. Despite adding two losses to their record this weekend, Pollard believes his team has the resilience—and the punch—to win going forward.
“I told our guys [after games one and two] that we didn’t play poorly, we just didn’t come up on the right side of the scoreboard,” Pollard said. “But I think we learned a lot about ourselves in [game three]. We learned that we’ve got the ability to come back and fight when our backs are against the wall, and that’s a good thing to know.”