There’s nothing like a snowstorm to start off baseball season.
Due to Winter Storm Pax, Duke’s season-opening series against Binghamton at Jack Coombs field has been slightly rescheduled. Friday’s game was postponed due to weather conditions in New York that prevented the Bearcats from traveling, and will now be played as part of a doubleheader beginning Saturday at noon. The third game of the series remains on track to be played Sunday at 1 p.m.
“We started plowing snow on Coombs field at about 8:30 this morning,” head coach Chris Pollard said. “I’m confident we’re going to be able to get it off there, and I do not anticipate an issue with us being able to play a three-game series on Saturday and Sunday.”
Binghamton felt that the roads were unsafe for travel Thursday, and were planning to make the 10-hour drive to Durham, N.C. Friday as long as the conditions improve. The Bearcats certainly have their fair share of exposure to playing games in the cold weather, but Pollard isn’t worried about his team being at a disadvantage.
“I think that Binghamton is used to the cold,” Pollard said. “We’ve been fortunate because up until yesterday we’ve been outside everyday despite the cold temperatures. We’ve gotten a good bit of field time in, and I feel like our guys are ready.”
Now in his second season, Pollard and the Blue Devils will be looking to improve on an inaugural campaign in which they posted a decent 26-29 record, but went just 9-21 in conference play. With most of its young players from last year returning—the pitching staff returns all but 10.2 of its innings and the lineup has six holdovers from last year—Duke has the look of a rising team capable of having a big year.
“It’s a lot more comfortable feeling for everybody,” Pollard said. “We’re a lot more familiar with our personnel and who fits best where. We’re a much-improved club over where we were at this time last year. Now we have to go out and back it up with results on the field.”
Leading the Blue Devil offense this season will be returning second-team All ACC selections Andy Perez and Jordan Betts, who play second and third base, respectively. Perez, now a junior, led all starters last season with a .316 batting average and swiped 18 stolen bases in 23 attempts, while also ranking second on the team with 40 runs scored. Betts—along with senior first baseman Chris Marconcini—will present a formidable threat in the middle of the lineup. The duo combined for 15 home runs and 86 RBIs last year, and provides the classic power required at the corner infield positions.
On the mound, Duke will again feature a three-man rotation of Trent Swart, Robert Huber, and Drew Van Orden, with Michael Matuella also getting some starting nods based on the schedule. Swart’s 2.75 ERA ranked ninth amongst ACC starters last year, while posting an impressive 7.52 strikeouts per nine innings.
The pitching staff will have their hands full against a Binghamton squad that won the America East conference last year and returns its entire starting lineup. The Bearcats have experience and talent up and down the roster, highlighted by junior left fielder Jake Thomas. Thomas earned first team all-region honors thanks to a gaudy stat line that included a .517 on-base percentage—good for second in the nation—and a .522 slugging percentage. The Bearcats lost two key starters on the mound in Jake Lambert and Jay Lynch but are still well-stocked with talented arms. Redshirt junior Jack Rogalla led their starters with a 3.01 ERA last year and now assumes the role of staff ace, and talented junior Mike Urbanski will transition from the bullpen and slide into the No. 2 slot in the rotation.
Regardless of the unusual circumstances surrounding the series, Pollard is eager for his team to get out on the field against a quality opponent.
“It’s going to be a really good series,” Pollard said. “They’re picked to win their league by Collegiate Baseball and Baseball America. They have the preseason player of the year [Thomas] and two projected high draft picks on the mound in Urbanski and Rogalla, and so they’ve got a good club. They’re very well coached, and we’ve got our hands full—we’ll have to play well.”