After Tuesday’s shutout loss against Penn, head coach Chris Pollard knew his team needed to regroup quickly before facing the Quakers again Wednesday.
“We spent a lot of time talking about it last night,” he said. “And then we spent a lot of time talking about it at our pregame meeting today.”
His talks paid off. After falling 6-0 against Penn (2-4) Tuesday, Duke fought back with an 8-1 victory to split the two-game series.
With their usual starters getting a rest before ACC play opens up against Miami Friday, two freshmen were given the ball for the Blue Devils (6-6). Righthander James Marvel opened the series Tuesday in his third start of the season, relinquishing three runs on six hits in five innings. When the bullpen took over, sophomore righthander Dalton Brown surrendered three more runs before classmate Sarkis Ohanian closed out the game with three scoreless innings. Quaker first baseman Spencer Branigan lit up the Blue Devils, going 3-for-4 with a walk and two runs scored.
Quaker junior righthander Pat Bet, however, stunted Duke’s offense by throwing for six scoreless innings, giving up only two hits and one walk. Bet, in his first start of the season, combined for the shutout with sophomores Michael Montaldo and Ronnie Glenn.
“Offensively, we didn’t get up on the plate… and have an aggressive mentality,” Pollard said. “And then we didn’t do as good a job as we needed to do at pitching, [especially] putting the first pitch in the strike zone.”
Freshman Michael Matuella took the mound Wednesday looking to help the Blue Devils avoid a two-game sweep. Matuella’s scoreless outing, in which he scattered four hits over five innings, not only turned around Duke’s pitching, but also, as Pollard noted, galvanized the offense.
“Michael had a great start,” Pollard said. “When you get a really good start on the mound it allows your offense to relax and settle in, and Michael came out and had a great top of the first. The start that he had really controlled the game.”
Duke’s offense broke out in the bottom of the first, when second baseman Andy Perez led off the game with a single off Penn starter Jeff McGarry, then immediately stole second. Senior right fielder Jeff Kremer then began his 4-for-4 day with a single to advance Perez to third. Perez then scored when McGarry’s pick-off attempt went wide of first. After junior Jordan Betts walked, redshirt sophomore first baseman Chris Marconcini smacked a double down the right field line to score Kremer and Betts.
“Immediately our guys switched [from] ‘sitting on our hands hoping something good happens’ mode to ‘okay, let’s be the aggressor’ mode,” Pollard said. “Right away, we took a very aggressive mentality.”
The Blue Devils manufactured four runs in the sixth inning using that aggressive mentality, forcing the Quakers to switch pitchers three times after they allowed five straight free passes. After pushing across two runs by being walked with the bases loaded, freshman shortstop Kenny Koplove and junior designated hitter Mark Lumpa came across the plate to score two more on a Perez sacrifice fly and a Kremer single.
The Quakers broke the shutout in the in eighth on three straight singles off of freshman Nick Hendrix, but he and sophomore lefthander Remy Janco held Penn to only one run. Duke immediately rebounded with a run in the bottom of the inning, and sophomore Andrew Istler closed out the game with a scoreless ninth.
Despite a resurgent offense, Pollard maintains that the key to the game was Matuella, who put himself in a position to contribute more frequently during conference play.
“[My performance] just built confidence,” Matuella said. “It’s really all mentality out there. A lot of people have a lot of talent at this level, and what separates you is going out there and having that confident mindset.”