A few key mental mistakes kept the Blue Devils from extending their winning streak to four.
Despite leading for most of the contest, Duke fell to Liberty 4-3 in Lynchburg, Va. in the second game of a home-home series against the Flames. The first matchup was an 8-2 loss for Duke back in Durham March 5.
“It really just boiled down to a couple base running mistakes, and we just didn’t execute a couple of pitches late,” said head coach Chris Pollard. “Overall, we played pretty well. I thought we had a really good offensive approach against a good arm early in the game.... But we had the bases loaded two different times and had two different base running mistakes that potentially took runs off the board.”
The Blue Devils (17-13) jumped out on Liberty starter Blake Fulghum early by grabbing one run in the top of the second inning and adding two more in the top of the fifth to give Duke a 3-0 cushion.
Duke could have tacked on a few more insurance runs in the fifth inning after redshirt senior right fielder Ryan Dietrich singled to load the bases with two outs. Senior third baseman Matt Berezo, filling in for the injured Jordan Betts, was picked off of third, though, to end the inning.
Another opportunity to add to the Blue Devil lead came in the sixth inning when they loaded the bases with just one out. This time senior left fielder Mark Lumpa was caught napping as he was doubled up on a Matt Berezo line drive.
Liberty (22-7), to its credit, made the most of its few opportunities. With two outs in the bottom of the seventh junior first baseman Alex Close drilled a changeup over the wall for a solo home run and two batters later pinch hitter Andrew Yacyk added a two-run shot to knot the score at three. The Flames would add the go-ahead run in the bottom of the eighth on a solo homerun by second baseman Ryan Seiz.
“Some of that is good fortune,” Pollard said. “To hit three homeruns with two outs—a little bit of that you just have to tip your hat [because] that’s bad luck…. I’m not sure if you played those circumstances again 100 times you could come out with the same results. But it happened tonight—that’s baseball. You have to tip your hat. You have to learn from it and move on.”
Junior Andrew Istler had an effective day on the mound to start. Istler threw four shut out innings allowing only two hits and walking none. Despite surrendering three hits and two walks, freshman Kevin Lewallyn managed to hold the lead in 2.2 innings of work.
“Our guys were very effective except for basically three pitches,” said Pollard. “Istler threw the ball outstanding. It was really good to see him bounce back… Kevin came on and threw the ball really well… so those are some positive things we can take out of the ball game.”