In a 5-1 loss to Campbell Wednesday, Duke struggled to jumpstart its offense, failing to take advantage of opportunities with runners in scoring position.
Although that initially continued Friday night, a late seventh-inning rally helped the Blue Devils come from behind to defeat Toledo 2-1 at the Durham Bulls Athletic Park in the first meeting of a three-game weekend series. After surrendering a run in the third inning, Duke starting pitcher Bailey Clark grew stronger as the game progressed, finishing with nine strikeouts and just three hits in seven innings.
Despite their initial struggles, the Blue Devil batters eventually provided enough run support to secure Clark his second win of the season. Senior left-hander Nick Hendrix finished off the last two innings for the save.
“There were times when guys could have given in to the moment a little bit. We showed off some mental toughness. It was a good win from that standpoint that these guys can build off of [it],” Pollard said. “[The offense] needed to push those two runs across for [Clark], because he pitched great. When were struggling to get something going offensively, he held the game within reach. It was a great outing.”
With the exception of sophomore Evan Dougherty's three-homer game against Ohio State Feb. 26, the Blue Devils (6-4) had used a station-to-station approach to manufacture runs. But extra-base hits made the difference Friday.
Sophomore Jack Labosky led off the decisive seventh inning off with a double to left-center field, and advanced to third base on a sacrifice bunt by Dougherty. After Labosky scored on a Griffin Conine double, sophomore Peter Zyla launched an opposite-field double the other way to bring Conine home and give the Blue Devils a 2-1 lead.
Both Clark and Toledo southpaw Steven Calhoun escaped the first two innings unscathed in what quickly turned into a pitcher's duel. Clark surrendered a single to Matt Hansen—who got as far as third base later in the inning—but the right-hander ended the top of the first by striking out A.J. Montoya and forcing a Dalton Bollinger groundout.
Duke freshman shortstop Zack Kone singled on Calhoun’s
first pitch in the first frame and stole second with two outs, but was stranded there when Labosky grounded out to third.
In the third inning, the Rockets mounted a threat when Hansen reached first on an infield single initially scored as a Kone error. Although he retrieved the ground ball in time to make the throw to first, Kone bobbled the ball inside his glove. After Deion Tansel roped a single to left field, Clark appeared to settle down, striking out Montoya on four pitches. But then Bollinger brought Hansen home with a two-strike blooper to center field to put Toledo (1-7-1) on the board.
That was all the Rockets got against Clark. Although his pitch count began to rise, the 6-foot-5 junior relied on his fastball and change-up to keep the Rockets guessing and force groundouts. During the next four innings, he retired 12 straight Toledo batters to close out his night.
“After the third inning, I knew they weren’t going to get any more runs,” Clark said. “[The third inning] didn’t get me out of it. Stuff happens. I just kept pounding the zone and producing soft contact. I’m going to pitch the same way no matter what.”
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The Blue Devils had an opportunity to respond in the fourth when two batters reached base with no outs. Freshman left fielder Jimmy Herron singled through the left side before Calhoun pegged Labosky in the ankle. After Dougherty flied out to center field, Herron advanced to third on a Conine fly out to right. But the Rockets prevented any further damage when catcher Lucas Sokol threw out Labosky trying to steal second base to end the threat.
Pollard said that he was willing to take a chance on the base-paths because of his hitters’ slow start at the plate.
“Sometimes you try to force the issue a little bit. For us, the way we force the issue is with our run game and with our bunt game,” Pollard said. “We’re going to keep taking those kinds of chances in games because that’s the type of offense we have to be. We’re not a team that’s loaded with a lot of power.”
Kone continued his strong start to his freshman campaign with three hits in four plate appearances. The Boca Raton, Fla., native now has at least one hit in his last six games, and leads the Blue Devils with a .390 batting average.
“He’s a guy that is really aggressive early in the count. He’s done a good job of hitting the ball to all fields. He did that again tonight,” Pollard said. “He’s been a sparkplug.”
Duke left-hander Trent Swart will take the mound against the Rockets Saturday at 5 p.m. in game two of the series.