GREENSBORO, N.C.—Unfortunately for Duke, lightning could not strike twice Saturday.
The Blue Devils fell to Miami 6-5 in a 12-inning thriller to conclude their play in the ACC tournament Saturday at NewBridge Bank Park. Duke needed a win to secure its spot in Sunday's championship final where it would have been playing for its first berth to the NCAA Tournament in 53 years.
In Saturday's loss, Duke (33-25) was able to do what it has struggled to do all year and put together a balanced performance, as it got a three-run, seven inning outing from junior Trent Swart and the most well-timed home run of the year from freshman Cris Perez. But the duo's heroics were not enough to secure a victory in the marathon contest.
"We felt we had a really good chance coming into this game, with Swart on the mounds and how we’ve been hitting lately," senior pitcher Robert Huber said. "It came down to one swing of the at bat that changed the pace of the game. Give it to Miami on that. But I did feel like we played well throughout the entire game. Just happened that Miami came out on top."
Swart struggled in the opening frame, as two early hits and a balk plated the first run of the game for the Hurricanes. Miami freshman Willie Abreu followed the balk with a line drive to right-center field, one that was nearly caught, as it nicked the glove of center fielder Mark Lumpa before falling and bringing across another run for the Hurricanes (41-17) to give them a 2-0 lead.
Duke would not stay silent for long, as the Blue Devils loaded the bases in the bottom of the second inning with no outs. But after a David Perkins strikeout and Kenny Koplove popout, Duke was in danger of leaving three runners stranded with nothing to show for it. However, senior Mark Lumpa would not go down without a fight, as the senior drew a full count, sat on the final pitch and walked the Blue Devils' first run of the afternoon across the plate to cut the deficit in half.
Things were silent from that point on until the final two innings. Miami threatened to break the game wide open in the eighth—just as Clemson did in the ninth inning of Wednesday's loss—but Huber held the Hurricanes in check after replacing Nick Hendrix on the mound. With runners on first and third and one out, Huber got Brandon Lopez to fly out to center, allowing Zac Collins to tag and score from third to push the Miami lead to 4-2.
Duke went down in order in the eighth and was down to its final three outs when Berezo led the ninth off with a single to initiate a pitching change for Miami as the Hurricanes brought in Bryan Garcia to close out the ninth inning. Then, with one out in the bottom of the ninth, the tying run at first and a loss meaning the possible end of their season, the Blue Devils turned to the unlikeliest of heroes. Pinch-hitting for Kenny Koplove, Perez hit his first career home run—off of his high school teammate Garcia, no less—to tie the ballgame at four and send it into extra innings.
"[I] kept it in mind that it could be a possibility, especially if he was a closer, that I would come up in a situation where the game could be on the line," Perez said. "Also with my role on this team...I’ve come up in pressure situations at the end of the game. Similar way today. He happened to be in the game when I got the call. Got a good pitch and put a good play on it.
The Hurricanes broke the silence in the 12th after a quiet first two innings of extra play, as Jacob Heyward—who entered the day with a .143 batting average—would register his third hit of the day in the form of a double to left-center to bring up leadoff hitter Dale Carey. Carey advanced Heyward to third via a sacrifice bunt, which would open the gate for Heyward to score from third when a wild pitch got away from Rosenfeld. One batter later, Collins— the ACC Freshman of the Year—would cushion the Hurricane lead with a solo shot to right field, giving Miami a 6-4 lead.
The Blue Devils were once again down by two with three outs remaining.
After a strikeout and fly out, senior Jordan Betts and Marconcini got on base to give Duke runners on first and second with two outs. Down to his final strike, Rosenfeld hit a high-bouncing grounder up the middle, which slipped by shortstop Brandon Lopez, allowing Betts to score and and pushed the tying run to third. That was as close as the Blue Devils would get, as Berezo would go down looking to end the game.
But Duke is hopeful that the loss is not the end its season. With NCAA tournament selections coming out Monday, the Blue Devils will now have to wait and see if their season will extend into the national tournament for the first time since 1961.
"Obviously we’ve been talked about being on the “bubble” for a while now," Pollard said. "We came down here and played tough. I think we have showed that we can play with anybody in the country. The decision is out of our hands. I do know this. If we do get in, we’re a team that nobody wants to play, because we pitch, we play defense, we play tough, we play for the last out."