Timely hitting and yet another quality start from pitcher Andrew Wolcott Friday put Duke in an unfamiliar position--that of possible NCAA tournament team.
The Blue Devils were locked in a close game with Clemson (0-2) through five innings, but broke it open with a six-run sixth frame that knocked Tigers' starter Chris Dwyer out of the contest. Clemson's bullpen didn't do much better, and what had been a 2-1 game suddenly ballooned to an 8-1 lead for Duke (1-1).
The Blue Devils' win, coupled with UNC's loss to Virginia Friday, gives Duke a realistic shot of making it to the ACC tournament finals. Duke would need to beat Virginia Saturday and hope that Clemson takes down the Tar Heels.
Regardless, Friday's victory helped the Blue Devils on their quest to make an NCAA regional for the first time since 1961. A win Saturday would greatly enhance their chances.
"We want to keep playing past this tournament, and we knew we needed a win today to make that a reality," Duke head coach Sean McNally said.
The critical sixth frame began with a deep home run over the Blue Monster at Durham Bulls Athletic Park by first baseman Nate Freiman. With that home run--his 20th of the season and the 43rd of his career--Freiman set the Duke career home run record.
After Freiman, though, small ball was the name of the game. Left fielder Jeremy Gould, who had a terrific game in the field, bunted down the third base line for a single. The next batter, shortstpop Jake Lemmerman, drove him in with an opposite field triple, and Lemmerman scored on a wild pitch soon after.
Later in the inning, with men on first and second, third baseman Ryan McCurdy doubled to drive in one run and make the score 6-1. To cap the rally off, leadoff hitter Alex Hassan singled up the middle to clear the bases.
McNally attributed the team's outburst to more familiarity with Dwyer's pitches on the third time through the batting order.
On the mound for Duke, Wolcott once again delivered when the Blue Devils desperately needed him to.
Wolcott, a senior, pitched 7.1 innings and allowed four runs, only two of which were earned. Wolcott gave up an early home run that put Clemson ahead 1-0, but he shut down the Tigers the rest of the way. Clemson did not score a run between the second and eight innings.
"[Wolcott] has been rock solid all year long," McNally said. "He's a cornerstone guy for our season and our program."
Duke rounds out the round-robin portion of ACC tournament play tonight at 8 p.m. against Virginia. Florida State has already secured a berth in the ACC championship game Sunday at 1 p.m.
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