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Baseball opens season with weekend sweep in Orlando

In the Atlantic Coast Conference/Disney Baseball Blast in Orlando this weekend, the Blue Devils took the opportunity to schmooze with Mickey and Donald and proceeded to hit like Mickey Mantle and pitch like Donald Drysdale.

By sweeping three quality opponents in the season-opening tournament, Duke established itself as early national contenders with one of the best weekends in the program's history.

Duke (3-0) almost blew a 7-1 lead Friday before hanging on to an 8-7 win over Ohio State. Catcher Gregg Maluchnik's record-tying three-home run performance powered the Blue Devils past Tennessee by a touchdown and a field goal Saturday, 22-12. Freshman Patrick Hannaway and sophomore Brad Dupree then combined on a five-hitter Sunday to stymie Notre Dame, 3-1, to wrap up the successful weekend.

"Last year, we went to New Orleans and played three good teams and we played well and came out of there with three losses," outfielder Jordan Litrownik said. "This year, I think our chemistry is a lot better than I have seen in my two years here. We have good leadership and we have a lineup that's solid all the way through."

Third baseman Jeff Becker's three-run double highlighted a six-run second inning for the Blue Devils against the Buckeyes. Starter Stephen Cowie held Ohio St. to one run in four innings before exiting with a 7-1 lead. But two of the team's most reliable hurlers from last season, Chris Capuano and Clayton Connor, were shelled for six runs in a combined two innings of work to surrender the lead.

After the Blue Devils scored the go-ahead run in the seventh inning, Dupree pitched the final three innings and allowed only one hit to pick up the win.

"[Dupree] really was just focused," Litrownik said. "He just showed again he can be really effective. He was hitting his spots with his fastball, and he's got a split-finger pitch when it's working, I don't think anybody can hit it."

On Saturday, Maluchnik erased all doubts of his health after missing nearly 20 games last season, recording 17 total bases in six trips to the plate against the Volunteers.

The senior catcher belted three home runs and a triple in a contest where Duke built an early lead and just kept pouring it on, scoring 18 runs in the final four innings.

"I know Gregg is really driven," Litrownik said. "When you get hurt, it makes you realize how much you miss it, and you have to work twice as hard to get back. Gregg's work habit is pretty much amazing."

Freshman pitcher Brent Reid turned in a very auspicious collegiate debut Saturday-earning the win by pitching four innings without allowing an earned run. Fellow rookie Ryan Caradonna and senior Jim Wendling found the Tennessee lineup a bit more difficult to solve, giving up 10 runs, all earned, in the next four innings.

"Brent is from Tennessee; he went out there and just shut them down for four innings, I was really impressed," Litrownik said. "He told me before the first pitch his knees were shaking so bad he didn't know if he could throw the ball. He threw the first pitch for a strike and then he relaxed and everything fell into place."

Litrownik and Hannaway continued the pattern of injury-plagued veterans bouncing back and freshman pitchers making stellar debuts Sunday. Litrownik, who missed the majority of last season with a back injury, went 3-for-4 to cap an outstanding weekend in which he hit .500 with three doubles and six RBIs.

Hannaway started and gave up only three hits in nearly five innings of work before handing off to Dupree. The sophomore went the rest of the way, giving up only two hits and striking out four to earn his second victory of the season.

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