After dropping four straight games, Duke's triumph against rival North Carolina last weekend seems like a distant memory.
The Blue Devils seemed headed in the right direction after sweeping the Tar Heels for the first time since 1994, but a mid-week loss to Liberty and a swept series against Georgia Tech quickly brought them back down to Earth. Duke was dominated by the Yellow Jackets, falling 7-4 in the series opener Friday, dropping a 5-1 ballgame Saturday and losing a 1-0 pitcher’s duel in the finale Sunday at Russ Chandler Stadium.
Inconsistent play has plagued this Blue Devil squad all season long. In conference play, Duke has swept series versus Notre Dame and then-No. 19 North Carolina but suffered series sweeps at the hands of Pittsburgh and now Georgia Tech—marking an unusual stretch in which the Blue Devils have been a part of a weekend sweep for four consecutive weeks.
“We’ve got to be more consistent,” head coach Chris Pollard said. “When we play well, we can beat anybody on our schedule, and we’ve shown that. When we don’t play well, we can lose to anybody on our schedule, and we’ve shown that on the other side. I really think we just need to focus on the consistency of our ball club and getting some guys going individually.”
Duke (17-16, 7-8 in the ACC) was hampered by an inconsistent offense against the Yellow Jackets (19-13, 8-7), who came into the weekend on a four-game losing streak. The Blue Devils put up a four-spot in the third inning of Friday’s game—highlighted by RBI singles from second baseman Andy Perez and designated hitter Matt Berezo—but could only muster one run in the final 24 innings of the series.
“We just didn’t push enough runs across the board over the course of the weekend,” Pollard said. “Ultimately, it boils down to some guys that are capable of swinging the bat better than they are right now. We need to work really hard with those guys individually to get those guys going at the plate.”
Duke did receive some good news in the offensive department with third baseman Jordan Betts returning to the lineup. The senior had been forced to watch his teammates from the bench for the past two weeks after injuring his back against Pittsburgh, but started all three games this weekend. Betts—who leads the team with a .510 slugging percentage and is second with a .350 batting average—picked up three hits in Sunday’s game and could provide a huge boost for the beleaguered lineup moving forward.
“I hope [he can jumpstart the offense],” Pollard said. “He needs to be one of those guys, certainly. He had three hits today. He’s a guy that we’re going to need to lean on heavily over these last 24 ballgames.”
The lack of production at the plate meant that the Blue Devils wasted a masterful performance on the mound Sunday from sophomore Michael Matuella. The right-hander breezed through the Georgia Tech lineup, needing just 87 pitches to make it through eight four-hit innings. Matuella (0-1) was handed a hard-luck loss despite taking a perfect game into the sixth inning, and struck out six while allowing just one unearned run to lower his ERA to a sparkling 0.82.
“It was one of the best pitched games I’ve ever seen [by Matuella],” Pollard said. Only three balls reached the outfield the whole ballgame. He gave up four singles, three of them were infield hits. He didn’t walk a guy. He completely dominated the game.”
Duke will return to action 6 p.m. Tuesday as it welcomes crosstown opponent N.C. Central to Jack Coombs Field. Despite the team’s up-and-down play and lackluster offense, Pollard said he is not jumping to panic mode and is willing to stick with the same approach the Blue Devils have had all season.
“[This weekend] doesn’t change anything in terms of how we approach day-to-day,” Pollard said. “I’m not sure if, at this point, it’s an overall approach issue as much as it is that we’ve got to look at each guy that’s underperforming right now relative to where we think he can be and try to get those guys going.”