The last time Duke swept North Carolina, eight Blue Devils had yet to be born.
Notching three straight victories against the No. 24 Tar Heels at Jack Coombs Field, Duke swept North Carolina for the first time since 1994. The Blue Devils knocked off the Tar Heels 3-2 Friday before taking Saturday's contest 9-8 in 12 innings and got the brooms out with a 6-4 victory Sunday for the team's first sweep against its Tobacco Road rivals in 20 years.
“It’s a great weekend for our club,” head coach Chris Pollard said. “I hope that our guys will build off of it. I told them in our postgame meeting that I’m happy for them. They deserved this. They put a lot of work in for 20 months, and this is what we hope is the tip of the iceberg. But they need to take the next six or sevens hours and let this soak in because they put a lot in to get to this point."
A gem of a performance on the mound by starting pitcher Drew Van Orden lifted the Blue Devils (17-12, 7-5 in the ACC) to victory in Friday's series-opener. The senior allowed just one run on five hits in eight innings, striking out a career-high 12 Tar Heels in the process.
Duke didn’t need much offense behind the stellar job by Van Orden, as Mark Lumpa scoring on a wild pitch and two sacrifice flies by Matt Berezo were enough for Duke to capture the win 3-2, snapping a nine-game losing streak to North Carolina (15-12, 5-7).
“We’d never beaten Carolina in the past three years,” redshirt junior Aaron Cohn said. “So coming in and getting that first win on Friday really set the tone for the weekend.”
The second game of the series was the most thrilling of the set, as the Blue Devils put in a come-from-behind performance to win it in 12 innings.
Duke battled back from a 6-1 deficit, chipping away at the North Carolina lead to send the game into extra innings. With the bases loaded in the bottom of the 12th, redshirt senior Ryan Deitrich lined a single down the left field line to give the Blue Devils the 9-8 walk-off win, clinching the series win for Duke.
“Baseball’s just a huge game of momentum,” Cohn said. “So not only the walk-off but then clinching the series right there for us really helped coming in [to Sunday], but it also had to hurt Carolina just as much.”
In the series finale, Duke got off to an auspicious start, scoring two runs in the first inning despite not recording a single hit, as Tar Heel pitcher Zac Gallen struggled to get the ball over the plate, hitting three batters and walking two before being pulled after recording just a single out. North Carolina continued to struggle with its command throughout the afternoon, walking nine Blue Devil batters in the game.
North Carolina tied the game in the fourth when Tom Zengel smacked a double to the right field gap off Blue Devil pitcher Michael Matuella to drive in Michael Russell. The double was the first hit and first run allowed by Matuella all season after 13.2 innings of hitless work.
After falling behind 3-2 in the fifth, Duke scored four unanswered runs to take a 6-3 lead. It was all the insurance they would need, as the bullpen followed up Matuella’s strong performance with a rock solid job of their own, allowing just two runs in five innings.
“It was a really good outing by Matuella,” Pollard said. “We had to run three guys back out there on the mound that had pitched yesterday and those guys gutted it out and were competitors.”
The sweep also marks first time since 1994 that Duke has swept two ACC opponents in the same season. As ACC play heats up, a historic sweep could be just what the Blue Devils need.
“It gives us a ton of momentum,” Cohn said. “Since I’ve been here we’ve never really had such a trademark win like we’ve had here. We’ll just take it one day at a time, but really build off of this for the future.”