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Blue Devils kick off season with Aggies

This weekend, the baseball team opens its season with a two-game series against North Carolina A&T, one of the many in-state non-conference opponents Duke will face this season. Beginning at 1 p.m. both Saturday and Sunday at Jack Coombs Field, the teams will face off for the first time since the Aggies defeated the Blue Devils 3-2 in extra innings last season.
'I expect it to be a low-scoring game,' Duke head coach Bill Hillier said. 'You hope, from a coach"s standpoint that you throw a lot of strikes in the zone and execute defense well. We"ve spent a lot of time working on avoiding those little mistakes.'
Last season, the Blue Devils, who finished the season with a 25-31 record, struggled in the field and lost more than 10 games by a single run. The Aggies, 23-28 last season, surpassed its former school record for wins and took third in the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference Tournament. N.C. A&T graduated only two seniors and a junior from last year"s team and returns 23 players. But one of the graduated seniors, Austin Love, anchored the team offensively, and N.C. A&T will now rely more on sophomore Charlie Gamble"s bat.
Duke has also lost several key players, including a pair of pitchers--Tim Layden, who was drafted by the Chicago Cubs, and Zach Schreiber, taken by the Atlanta Braves. The Blue Devils returning starters include outfielder Javier Socorro, who was recently named to the second-team All-ACC preseason team. To lead Duke offensively, Socorro batted .369 last season and had a 12-game hitting streak.
Also returning and starting on the mound for the Blue Devils Saturday is Greg Burke, a fifth-year senior who underwent 'Tommy John' surgery in his second season at Duke. The New Jersey native finished last year with a 4.37 ERA and a 5-7 record. 'I expect him to go out and keep us in the ball game because he"s pretty good,' Hillier said of Burke. 'He"s always been able to go out and command the ball down the zone. He throws a lot of strikes and has plenty of experience.'
The Blue Devils will likely have to face Aggie pitcher Michael Hauff, who finished 6-4 last year, Saturday. The junior led the team with a 3.30 ERA and 95 strikeouts.
Duke sophomore Danny Otero, who earned four saves last year, will make the change from reliever to starter this season and will pitch for the Blue Devils Sunday. Otero tallied 46 strikeouts and eight walks in 61 and 2/3 innings.
'We have a lot of experience, and I expect us to go out there and play well,' Hillier said.

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