After a quiet weekend against Georgia Tech, the Blue Devils' bats woke up and made plenty of noise.
Duke cruised past N.C. Central 9-1 Tuesday night at Jack Coombs Field thanks to an early offensive outburst. The Blue Devils tallied eight runs in the first three innings after scoring just one run across the final 24 frames of their weekend series against the Yellow Jackets.
“I thought our offensive approach was very good in the first three innings,” head coach Chris Pollard said. “It was good to see us have some good at-bats against a left-handed pitcher because that’s been something that has really victimized us.”
Duke (18-16) jumped out to an early 1-0 lead in the bottom of the first against Eagles starter Andrew Wilson. The left-handed Wilson has struggled with control for most of the season—he entered the game having issued 18 walks in 32.1 innings pitched—and it cost him right away against the Blue Devils. He walked the first batter he faced—Duke center fielder Aaron Cohn—which came back to haunt him when Cohn scored the game’s first run on Chris Marconcini’s two-out liner to right.
“We did what we needed to do to score runs [early] in the game,” Pollard said. “Marconcini did it in the first inning. That’s a recipe. In the games that we haven’t done well, it’s because we haven’t come up with that hit.”
N.C. Central (14-18-1) answered right back with a run in the top of the second to even the score at one apiece. First baseman Christian Triplett and left fielder Bryant Battle started the inning with back-to-back singles up the middle, putting Blue Devil starter Kevin Lewallyn in a tricky spot with nobody out. The freshman southpaw then induced a double play from designated hitter Eric Kimber, leaving a runner on third with two outs. It looked as if Lewallyn was going to wiggle his way out of the jam, but a blooper off the bat of second baseman Jake Cagle found the grass in short right field to bring in Triplett from third.
Duke wouldn’t let the game stay tied for long, however. Leading off the bottom of the second, redshirt senior Ryan Deitrich was hit by a pitch and stole second to put himself in scoring position. Deitrich scored on a double into the right-field corner by second baseman Andy Perez—who went 2-for-3 with a walk—that put the Blue Devils back on top. Duke tacked on two additional runs in the frame on a wild pitch—Wilson’s seventh of the season—and a sacrifice fly from catcher Mike Rosenfeld to push its advantage to 4-1.
The Blue Devils continued to pile on in the third inning, pushing four more runs across the plate to increase their lead to 8-1 and effectively put the game out of reach. Duke used a sacrifice fly to chase Wilson, who was replaced by reliever Grant Cain. Cain allowed three runs to score on another sac fly and a two-RBI single by Rosenfeld, leaving Wilson with a final line of seven earned runs in just 2.1 innings.
“That second and third inning you could definitely, in my opinion, feel a big sigh of relief come out of the dugout,” Pollard said. “I thought our team, if I’m being honest with you, was a little bit tight early on. But I think once we pushed those runs across in the second and third, our club loosened up, and I thought we had a pretty good approach from that point forward.”
The Blue Devils went with an unconventional look on the mound, opting to piece the game together with several relievers instead of relying on a traditional starter. Nine different pitchers saw action against the Eagles, none of whom tossed more than 2.1 innings. The patchwork strategy worked well, as the Duke staff combined to allow just six hits while picking up 14 strikeouts.
Junior Sarkis Ohanian (1-1) picked up his first win of the season for Duke, rebounding from a loss against Liberty last week. Ohanian kept the N.C. Central hitters off balance with a very effective breaking ball, which he used to record five strikeouts—including four consecutive batters before he was lifted from the game—in 2.1 perfect innings.
“I thought he was lights-out," Pollard said. "Sarkis had what I would characterize as a rough outing up at Liberty. I thought his stuff was good, but he left a couple balls up [then].... I thought [tonight] was a really good bounce-back effort.”