If ever there were a moment for the Blue Devils to bust out of their season-long road slump, now would be the time.
Duke has not lost on the road to Virginia Tech since 2010 and will head to Blacksburg, Va., this weekend for a three game series against the division rival Hokies. This first game is set for 5:30 p.m. Friday with the second game beginning Saturday at 2 p.m. and the series finale Sunday at 1 p.m.
“We have to break out at some point,” head coach Chris Pollard said. “We understand that to be where we want to be, we have to play well on the road down the stretch. I think we’ve been really close in a number of games on the road, we just have to get over the hump."
Duke (21-17, 9-9 ACC) has excelled from a pitching standpoint so far this season. Led by reigning ACC Pitcher of the Week Drew Van Orden, the Blue Devils pitching staff ranks third in the ACC in ERA at 3.10 and second in strikeouts per game with 8.88.
Duke will be sending Van Orden to the mound in the series opener on Friday with junior Trent Swart and sophomore Michael Matuella starting Saturday and Sunday’s games respectively. Van Orden is coming off of a dominant performance last weekend against then-No. 25 N.C. State in which he allowed no runs and only four base runners over eight innings.
“The main key is always starting pitching," Pollard said. "[If] those guys give you a good start then you set up well to be in the ballgame late and then it really just comes down to… getting that key hit with runners in scoring position.”
Even with Duke’s strength on the mound, it will not be easy against Virginia Tech (18-17, 7-11). The Hokies are a force at the plate, where they rank tied for second in the ACC in batting average at .287 and third in total hits. Virginia Tech is led by redshirt freshman Saige Jenco, who is batting .355 on the year and is second on his team in hits and runs scored.
“One of the things I tell our guys all the time is you have to be prepared to play in whatever type of ballgame presents itself,” Pollard said. “We may have to play in some [high-scoring] type ballgames… and you have to be mentally tough enough to be able to play in different types of games. You don’t get to necessarily pick whether it’s going to be a low-scoring game or a high-scoring game or a close game, you just have to compete in whatever type of game presents itself.”
The Blue Devils lineup will take a slight hit in the series as Duke will be without captain Mike Rosenfeld for most of the weekend with an undisclosed injury. Rosenfeld had started every game behind the plate until missing Wednesday’s matchup against N.C. Central and has been ruled out of both Friday and Saturday’s matchups. The senior could return to the lineup on Sunday as a designated hitter, but that will be based on his recovery over the next few days.