The Blue Devils continued their hot start Tuesday afternoon, knocking off Alabama A&M in a lopsided contest behind a strong pitching performance from sophomore Christopher Manno and a great day at the plate from junior Nate Freiman.
After rain drenched Jack Coombs Field all morning, Duke (5-0) fell behind 1-0 in the third inning before tying the game in the bottom of the frame. The team poured on four more runs in the fourth en route to an 8-1 victory over the Bulldogs (0-4).
"We had a little bit of a tough time fielding in the outfield, but both teams were playing with the same soggy conditions," head coach Sean McNally said. "I was very pleased that we made no errors in the game. Hitting will come and go so pitching and defense will need to be our foundation, just as they were today."
Freiman, the Blue Devils' cleanup hitter and biggest power threat, led off the decisive fourth inning rally by beating out Bulldog third baseman Bryan Evans' long throw. Following a single by designated hitter Kyle Kreick, the Alabama A&M battery lost its composure and allowed two passed balls before walking Jeremy Gould. The sequence of events clearly rattled the Bulldogs and left them trailing by a run with runners on the corners and nobody out. By the time the inning was over, Duke had plated four runners and racked up four hits.
"We always talk about base-running as the ultimate form of teamwork," Freiman said. "It does not matter in the end how you get on base, just as long as you get on base."
The first baseman ignited the Blue Devils' rally in the fourth with his speed, but in his next two at bats, displayed why he is Duke's most formidable offensive threat. With one out in the fifth inning, Freiman launched a ball to straight away center field. Alabama A&M's centerfielder, however, channeled Willie Mays with an over-the-shoulder full sprint catch just short of the fence to rob Freiman of extra bases.
In the seventh with a runner on base, Freiman pulled the ball to left field, and his shot easily cleared the wall for his team leading third homer that put Duke up by the final 8-1 margin.
"It was nice that Nate hit two balls so hard, but it was great to see him get us going in the fourth when we couldn't string anything together," McNally said. "It was really a spark for us. He gave us a lift."
With the ACC schedule looming, McNally is working on determining his thee-man weekend rotation. Making his first start of the season and third start of his career, Manno (1-0) made his case quite convincingly Tuesday afternoon.
The sophomore scattered seven hits and allowed just one run over six innings while striking out 10 and walking none.
"I have faced guys in practice, but I was still anxious to get out there and face competition," Manno said. "I was just trying to focus on throwing strikes and getting ahead of hitters."
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