Playing in a critical weekend series against Maryland, the Blue Devils let a ninth-inning lead slip away in the rubber game Sunday at Jack Coombs Field.
But unlike last weekend against Clemson when the Duke bats fell silent after blowing a late lead and a storm eventually left the game as a tie, the Blue Devils (31-14-1, 8-14-1 in the ACC) rallied in the bottom of the ninth and walked off with a 2-1 victory over the Terrapins (26-21, 8-16) when junior slugger Nate Freiman was hit by a pitch with the bases loaded.
"I'm really proud of the way my team handled the situation," head coach Sean McNally said. "We were disappointed we gave up another lead in the ninth, but the fact that we found a way to get a run across in the bottom of the inning is very encouraging.
"You always want to have a chance to win the series on Sunday. We had it again today and took advantage of the opportunity."
The Blue Devils dropped the series opener Friday 12-8, but rebounded Saturday afternoon with a 10-2 win to set the stage for Sunday's series-deciding match.
In the Sunday finale, Duke received an excellent outing from sophomore starter Jonathan Foreman, but the Blue Devils were held off the scoreboard until the seventh inning, when catcher Matt Williams knocked in the game's first run with an RBI groundout. After seven shutout innings from Foreman, sophomore Alex Hassan came to the mound to try to close the door on the Terrapins. The right-hander retired Maryland in the eighth but allowed the tying run to score in the ninth.
The Terrapins stuck with reliever Dan Gentzler, who had already thrown one and two-thirds innings, for the bottom of the ninth, and the righty gave up a leadoff single to sophomore third baseman Ryan McCurdy.
With one out and McCurdy at second after freshman shortstop Jake Lemmerman's sacrifice bunt, freshman Tom Luciano fought off pitch after pitch from Gentzler with two strikes before eventually striking out. But Luciano's at-bat may have tired out the Terrapin hurler.
After a two-out intentional walk to Hassan, Gentzler got ahead of Williams 0-2, but hit the Duke catcher to load the bases for Freiman. Gentzler's first two pitches sailed way outside to the Duke first baseman and with the count at 3-1, Gentzler threw a pitch too far inside that caught Freiman's jersey and forced in the winning run.
"[Luciano's] at-bat was enormous," Williams said. "He stayed in there and kept battling for us. He made their pitcher throw a lot of pitches and all of his pitches. When I was up there, he threw two good pitches to me, but then I got in my two-strike stance and his next pitch was right at me."
Duke now has six ACC contests left, with a pair of three-game series on the road at Wake Forest and Virginia Tech in the two weekends after the exam break.
Only eight of 12 ACC teams qualify the ACC tournament in Jacksonville, Fla., but with the series win this weekend, Duke now controls its own destiny as it battles with six teams-including the Demon Deacons and Hokies-for the final two spots in the field.
"All you can ask for is to have the chance to play your way into the tournament," Williams said. "This is great-we've been resilient all year and it is nice to not have to sit around and hope someone else loses so we can get in."
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