The Blue Devils are one win away from making this a truly historic season.
In the penultimate series of the regular season and the final series at home, Duke will host No. 15 Miami this weekend at the Durham Bulls Athletic Park. First pitch of the series opener is set for Friday at 6 p.m. with the second game and the series finale set for 1 p.m. Saturday and noon Sunday, respectively.
If the Blue Devils can win one of these three games, they will be guaranteed to finish the season above .500 in conference play for the first time since 1994, but head coach Chris Pollard said the focus is on the short term right now.
“The importance of adding on wins from our vantage point is more to secure as high a seed going into the ACC tournament as possible and specifically to stay out of the play-in game,” Pollard said. “Eventually, I hope there’s an opportunity when the seasons over with to reflect back on the historical context of this year and where it puts us in terms of the growth of the program moving forward but for us right now it’s just focused on tomorrow night.”
Duke (30-18, 15-9 in the ACC) currently holds third place in the ACC Coastal Division with six games left to play in the conference schedule and seven games overall.
The Blue Devils have already hit a couple of benchmarks in Pollard’s second season as head coach. With a win Monday against Longwood, Duke recorded its 30th win of the season, a feat the Blue Devils had accomplished only twice since the turn of the millennium. Also, while it is still sitting just outside of the National Collegiate Baseball Writers Association Poll—college baseball’s equivalent of the AP Poll—Duke enters the week ranked No. 30 in Collegiate Baseball Newspaper’s poll.
Miami (35-14, 19-5) will do its best to prevent Duke from getting that win this weekend. Like the Blue Devils, the Hurricanes have leaned a lot on their pitching this season coming in with a team ERA of 3.06, not far behind Duke’s mark of 2.89. Both the Blue Devils and Miami also rank in the top three in the conference in total strikeouts this season and Pollard said he looks for this weekend to showcase three great pitching matchups.
“Miami’s strength is its starting pitching and our strength is our pitching, and they have really relied on those three guys particularly in conference play to get them deep in ballgames," Pollard said. "I look for them to be three low-scoring, hard-fought ballgames.”
Because of the strength of the Miami pitching staff it will be critical for the Blue Devils to not let any scoring opportunities slide when they have runners in scoring position—something that has been an issue for Duke throughout the season. The Blue Devil offense left another 23 men stranded during its last series against Longwood earlier this week.
The bats, though, have started to come alive during Duke’s recent string of success in which the Blue Devils have won 13 of their last 15 games. Duke is second in the ACC in triples and home runs with the heart of the batting order providing much of that power.
Senior third baseman Jordan Betts has posted career highs in batting average at .316, slugging percentage at .523, and on-base percentage at .403 and redshirt junior outfielder Chris Marconcini is tied for the ACC lead in home runs with eight and has knocked in a conference-best 44 runs.
“We're swinging the bat overall better than we have maybe at any point this year,” Pollard said. “The biggest thing is when you get your opportunity you have to take advantage of it because against a team that pitches that well you don't get many opportunities.... It's really going to boil down to which team is more opportunistic.”