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Six-run fifth inning dooms Blue Devils

Freshman Nick Piscotty retired the first nine Wildcats but allowed six runs in the fifth inning.
Freshman Nick Piscotty retired the first nine Wildcats but allowed six runs in the fifth inning.

Rhythm is critical to a pitcher, and on occasion even the slightest disturbance can throw a hurler off his game. This was the case for Duke freshman Nick Piscotty, who breezed through three innings before allowing his first baserunner in the fourth and unraveling in a six-run fifth inning for opposing Davidson.

The Wildcats (15-19) added two more tallies in the eighth inning to earn an 8-4 victory over the Blue Devils (14-24) Tuesday at Jack Coombs Stadium.

Debuting a new slider that he had been working on for the last few weeks, Piscotty cruised through the first three frames, retiring all nine batters he faced without going to a three-ball count on any of them.

“I was mixing up my pitches and had command of my fastball and both my breaking balls,” Piscotty said.

But after Piscotty struck out Davidson leadoff man Jake Berman to open fourth inning, Wildcat left fielder Forrest Brandt gave his team its first baserunner with a single to left. Brandt, who has swiped a team-leading 14 bases this season, clearly became a distraction for the Blue Devil right-hander, who slowed his pace considerably and made several throws to first base. Brandt stole second nonetheless, and Piscotti issued his first walk of the game before escaping the inning with a flyout.

“The game just sped up a little bit,” Piscotty said. “I just needed to relax and get after the hitter.”

The Blue Devil offense did its best to settle Piscotty back down, as four straight one-out hits and a sacrifice fly staked him to a three-run lead. Leftfielder David Perkins drove in second baseman Mark Lumpa from first base on a double to right-center field, and after a Grant McCabe single, center fielder Anthony D’Alessandro plated another run with the second two-bagger of the inning. Shortstop Angelo LaBruna, the only Duke player to record a multi-hit game with a 2-for-3 effort, capped off the scoring by driving in McCabe with a sacrifice fly to left field.

Despite the 3-0 advantage, Piscotty could not calm his wildness, walking Davidson shortstop Michael Zeblo to open the fifth. Designated hitter Ryan Lowe then hit a grounder to LaBruna just left of second base. LaBruna and second baseman Mark Lumpa appeared to miscommunicate about whether LaBruna should toss the ball to Lumpa for the out at second or get to the bag himself. The momentary delay forced LaBruna to rush the double-play turn, and his throw on to first sailed wide of the mark into the Davidson dugout. LaBruna also collided with Zeblo’s head when Zeblo slid into the base and LaBruna jumped over him to turn the double play. The game was delayed as Zeblo was helped off the field, and the inning only got longer from there.

“We had scored and created some momentum, and it’s really important to come out and shut them down,” head coach Sean McNally said. “To their credit, they swung the bat well with two outs…. Obviously we’re all frustrated with walking guys in that spot.”

Catcher Daniel Gerow doubled to drive in Lowe, which Piscotty followed up with a walk, a balk and another walk to load the bases.

Freshman Andrew Istler then replaced Piscotty and struck out Brandt, with Davidson head coach Dick Cooke yelling that the second-strike call was “the worst in the history of the game.” The Wildcats were undeterred by the second out, though, as a single and a pair of doubles ensued, putting Davidson ahead 6-3. Istler struck out David Daniels, who pinch hit for the injured Zeblo—who had led off the inning—to finally end the Wildcat fifth.

Davidson starter Rob Bain was replaced to start the bottom of the frame, and the Blue Devils struggled to make the adjustment from a left-handed starter to a right-handed reliever. Reliever Bryan DaCanal retired all nine hitters over the next three innings.

Meanwhile, three extra-base hits in the top of the seventh—a triple and two doubles—extended the Wildcat lead to five runs.

Duke threatened one final time in the eighth when a grounder back to the pitcher by Lumpa scored third baseman Jordan Betts—who had led off the inning with the double and moved over on a Mike Rosenfeld single—to bring the score back to 8-4. But DaCanal put out the fire, retiring the next two batters and three in a row in the ninth to give Davidson the victory.

“We kind of took all our good swings in one inning,” McNally said. “They brought in a different pitcher, which was a good idea. We just weren’t able to make an adjustment to the right-hander. He threw a lot of breaking balls and threw a lot of strikes and kept us off balance.”

The loss was Duke’s eighth in its last nine games but does not move the Blue Devils down in the ACC standings, where they remain one game away from a top-eight finish and berth in the ACC tournament.

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