Blue Devil baseball seeks to keep winning streak alive in doubleheader against Longwood
Jesús Hidalgo / Chronicle File Photo
Duke will get back on the diamond Sunday to defend its nine-game winning streak with a doubleheader against Longwood University at Jack Coombs Field. The first game is set to begin at 1 p.m. with the second contest slated to start at 4 p.m., before the series wraps up Monday at 4 p.m. at Durham Bulls Athletic Park.
Baseball is all about who's hot, and the Blue Devils (28-17) come into this series red-hot. With series wins against North Carolina, North Carolina State and Wake Forest under their belts, the state's hottest team will look to pick up its 10th win in a row against the Lancers (19-25).
"Baseball is just a momentum game," redshirt junior catcher Mike Rosenfeld said. "Our bats were kind of cold for a good part of the season. Our pitching's been fabulous the whole time. But for our bats to wake up right now is key, you just have to catch fire at the right time."
While Duke's bats are just recently starting to heat up, pitching has been one of its strong suits all season—as the team ranks third in the ACC with a 2.95 ERA. Southpaw Trent Swart—who will take the ball for the first game Sunday—leads all conference starters with a minuscule 0.75 ERA. Sophomore Michael Matuella and junior Andrew Istler will start the second half of the doubleheader and Monday's game, respectively.
The Blue Devils struggled at the plate during the early part of the season, which led to several close losses. But the woes—and the losses—stopped as Duke's bats began to heat up.
Through the past 12 games—11 of which have been victories for the Blue Devils—second baseman Andy Perez has led the offensive charge. During this dozen-game stretch, Perez leads the team with a .413 batting average.
"It's been a product of some of our key guys in the lineup making some good adjustments and heating up," Pollard said. "You look at Andy Perez and the way he's played over the last 10 or 12 games."
Perez has had plenty of help in leading Duke's offensive resurgence, with redshirt junior Chris Marconcini and senior Jordan Betts helping to ignite the Blue Devils' bats during their current hot streak. The upperclassman duo has bolstered the middle of the lineup for Duke, as Marconcini leads the ACC with 42 RBIs and eight home runs. Following his return from injury, Betts is posting career-highs in each of the three major offensive categories, with a .322 batting average, a .545 slugging percentage and a .440 on base percentage.
"It's not necessarily a big shift team-wise we've had," Pollard said. "It's more a product of some individual guys getting hot at the right time."
The Blue Devils will look to keep their offensive momentum going after taking a week off to focus on finals. Although Pollard has had teams in the past that came out sluggish following exams, the senior leadership on this team has him confident Duke will handle Sunday's doubleheader exceptionally.
"These young guys have some good role models on how to handle [finals]," Pollard said. "It's not easy at a place like Duke. These guys are a little bit fried mentally. What we try to do is use the time [at practice] to kind of let them get their heads clear."