Durham has been a lot kinder than the road to the Blue Devils this season.
After sweeping North Carolina at home, Duke dropped all four games in its road trip against Liberty and ACC rival Georgia Tech. Now the Blue Devils will return home to face N.C. Central at Jack Coombs Field Tuesday at 6 p.m. This game marks the start of a five-game home stand for Duke, which will start a three-game series against N.C. State this weekend at the Durham Bulls Athletic Park before returning to campus to face Davidson next week.
With less than 48 hours between a 1-0 loss in the series finale against the Yellow Jackets and Duke's next game, head coach Chris Pollard said the quick turnaround allows his team to have a short memory in regards to its recent struggles.
“That’s the beauty of baseball—that you don't have to sit around and feel sorry for yourself for very long,” Pollard said. “You get to get right back on the horse so to speak. Over the years I’ve always wondered how they do it in football. When you have a tough loss you have to wait around a full week. For us we don't have to sit around but 24 hours and we’re playing again.”
One of the bright spots for Duke (17-16) against Georgia Tech was the return of senior third baseman Jordan Betts after missing two weeks of action with a back injury. Betts did not miss a beat in his first games back, going 3-for-4 in Sunday's loss. Pollard said he believes having Betts’s experience back in the lineup will be key down the stretch for the Blue Devils.
The Eagles are 0-12 against Duke all-time, but N.C. Central (14-17-1) has been hot of late and is currently riding a five-game win streak. The Eagles are led by senior third baseman Tyson Simpson, who has started all 32 games this season and is batting a team-leading .381 on the year. Simpson also leads his team in hits with 43 and is second in RBIs with 28.
Despite N.C. Central’s recent offensive success, Duke’s primary focus heading into Teusday’s matchup will be its own inefficiences at the plate. The Blue Devils have continued to struggle with runners in scoring position and left nine runners on base in Sunday’s loss after mustering seven hits to Georgia Tech’s four.
“We try to take a lot of pride in not playing the opponent but playing against the standard of excellence we set for ourselves,” Pollard said. “Ideally we don't want to see anymore than 36 batters come to the plate in any one ballgame, and we don't want to give away more than five free bases in a ballgame. We’ve done a good job with that over the course of this year, and we’ll try to stay with the same formula from a pitching perspective that we’ve been using to this point.”
Tuesday’s game will see a variety of Duke pitchers as the team preps for its weekend series against N.C. State. Freshman Kevin Lewallyn will get the start for the Blue Devils, but coach Pollard said it is likely that at least seven Duke pitchers will see the mound against the Eagles.