After almost blowing a six-run lead Saturday due to some late homers by the Demon Deacons, Duke used a few timely long balls of its own a day later to keep its winning streak alive.
The Blue Devils won a thrilling 8-6 ball game against Wake Forest Sunday afternoon at Gene Hooks Field at Wake Forest Baseball Park, completing their fourth ACC series sweep of the season and extending their current winning streak to nine.
Duke trailed 6-3 after six innings but hit home runs in each of the final three frames to overtake the Deamon Deacons. The two teams combined to blast six homers throughout the game—a season-high five by the Blue Devils—just one day after combining for four.
“When the ball is jumping like that guys would be lying if they didn’t say it affects their approach a little bit,” Blue Devil head coach Chris Pollard said. “It affects pitchers and it affects hitters both. You start to feel like anything that gets up in the air has a chance to leave the yard.”
Duke (28-17, 15-9 in the ACC) tied the game at six in the seventh inning thanks to a three-run blast from right fielder Chris Marconcini. Wake Forest (26-21, 12-12) made a pitching change prior to the at-bat—bringing in freshman John McCarren to face the left-handed slugger—but the maneuver didn’t work out for the Deamon Deacons.
Marconcini took the first pitch he saw from McCarren and sent it over the wall in right center for his eighth homer of the season, which put him in a tie for the conference lead.
“I thought we stayed very relaxed [after being down 6-3],” Pollard said. “We didn’t press, we certainly didn’t panic. Guys recognized that we just needed to get a couple guys on base, and the park was playing very small all weekend. You feel like you get a couple guys on, you’re one swing away.”
After the bullpen held Wake Forest scoreless in the bottom of the seventh, the Blue Devils took the lead for good in the top of the eighth. Left fielder Ryan Deitrich hit a solo home run over the left field wall to give Duke a 7-6 lead it would not relinquish. Second baseman Andy Perez also added a solo shot for good measure in the ninth to provide the final 8-6 margin of victory—his only hit of the day.
Once they took the lead in the eighth, the Blue Devil bullpen took care of the rest. Junior Andrew Istler—who entered in the seventh to preserve the tie and left a runner stranded on third—and senior closer Robert Huber were dominant in closing out the victory. The duo retired all six batters they faced in the final two innings, slamming the door on any hopes Wake Forest had at mounting a comeback.
“It was a great finish,” Pollard said. “You could tell that those two guys just started to smell it, they could smell the victory. They went in there, they were very aggressive, they really pounded the strike zone and got a lot of soft-contact outs. [Wake Forest] didn’t square up a ball in the eighth or ninth innings.”
Starter Michael Matuella—who entered the game second among team starters with a 1.59 ERA—struggled a bit on the mound for Duke, requiring 94 pitches to make it through five innings in which he allowed five earned runs on six hits. The sophomore right-hander allowed just one run in his first four innings, but ran into some trouble in the bottom of the fifth.
Trailing 2-1, the Deamon Deacons used two consecutive bunt singles to load the bases with nobody out. Matuella then walked in a run and gave up a two-RBI single to senior Charlie Morgan, all before he had even recorded an out in the frame. He was able to limit the damage from there, inducing a run-scoring double play and a fly out to escape the inning with his team trailing only 5-2.
“[Matuella] had a little bit of bad luck there in the fifth,” Pollard said. “They had a leadoff single and then the back-to-back bunt hits. It wasn’t really like they were banging the ball all around the ballpark, but we got the big double-play groundball to minimize the damage.”