An unlikely source provided the key hit when the Blue Devils needed it most.
With clutch hitting constantly an issue for Duke on the road, freshman Cris Perez—who entered the game in the bottom of the 10th inning after senior Matt Berezo pinch hit in the top half of the inning for starting catcher Reed Anthes—delivered a much-needed triple with one out in the top of the 12th inning. One pitch later, shortstop Kenny Koplove drove Perez in with a sacrifice fly to left field for the winning run as the Blue Devils took the series-opener against Virginia Tech 3-2.
“I think our team showed a ton of toughness, that’s the first thing,” head coach Chris Pollard said. “To do that on the road—you give up the lead in the eighth with two outs, you have to make an unbelievable play defensively to get off the field and then to be tough enough to battle and finally push one across in the 12th, I think we showed tremendous fight. I’m very, very proud of our guys.”
Duke (22-17, 10-9 ACC) had a 2-1 lead going into the bottom of the eighth inning after a second consecutive stellar start from Drew Van Orden. Robert Huber came on in relief in the eighth, but Virginia Tech (18-18-1, 17-12) rallied. The Hokies loaded the bases on a single and two walks before Huber walked home the tying run with two outs. With the bases still loaded, Koplove prevented the Hokies from taking the lead by making a barehanded play on a slow groundball to end the inning.
The Blue Devils have not been strangers to free baseball this season—splitting their first four extra-inning games. But for a team that seemed like it could not find a way to get over the hump and win close games on the road, this win is the biggest.
“I think our guys, with some of the wins that we’ve had over the last few ball games—the Sunday game versus N.C. State and this game tonight—we've demonstrated to ourselves how tough we can be,” Pollard said. “[We have] competed unbelievably, and so you have to gain confidence from that. You can’t not gain confidence from that, and so that confidence is something that we can [use down the stretch].”
The Blue Devils will need to keep their emotions in check after this tumultuous game as they turn right around to play the second game of the series Saturday afternoon. But Pollard emphasized that his team will need to refocus and put this game behind them as soon as they step onto the field on for Saturday’s game.
“I [told them], ‘Look, you need to feel great about this. You need to enjoy this—a big time win—so take the rest of the evening and enjoy it. But… when you wake up tomorrow morning it’s over with,’” Pollard said. “You [have to] focus on the next day at hand and be ready to come out, fight, and compete one pitch at a time.”