When Duke dropped another low-scoring game to Georgia Tech in the series opener Saturday afternoon, its offense had produced just 22 runs in its first 10 ACC games.
Twenty-four hours and 24 runs later, the Blue Devil bats were awake at last.
A seven-run fifth inning propelled Duke to a 10-4 victory Sunday against the No. 23 Yellow Jackets at Russ Chandler Stadium in Atlanta, taking a road series from Georgia Tech for the first time since 2000 after a wild 14-13 10-inning victory in Saturday’s nightcap. Freshman shortstop Zack Kone was 2-for-4 with three RBIs Sunday and classmate Chris Proctor added two hits and two RBIs to lead a balanced offensive attack for the Blue Devils.
“Sometimes hitting is contagious, and I said all along we were swinging at good pitches, we just needed to not miss them—to drive the baseball,” Duke head coach Chris Pollard said. “We started doing that this weekend—really started doing it Tuesday versus Liberty. It’s good to see and it’s good for our confidence.”
The game was deadlocked at one entering the top of the fifth after both teams exchanged runs in the second frame, but it did not take long for the Blue Devils (14-14, 4-8 in the ACC) to open the floodgates.
Georgia Tech starter Keyton Gibson walked six batters in the first four innings but did not concede a hit until freshman Jimmy Herron led off the fifth frame with a single. The Yellow Jackets (20-7, 6-6) quickly went to the bullpen, but freshman reliever Robert Winborne surrendered a single to Proctor, a two-run double to Cris Perez and an RBI single to sophomore Jack Labosky—Saturday’s hero with eight RBIs—before Justin Bellinger struck out for Duke’s first out of the inning.
“One of the biggest differences is we’re getting leadoff guys on,” Pollard said. “To have a good offense, you’ve got to consistently get guys on early in the inning, and in that particular inning, we got two guys on to start the inning.”
Winborne’s day was done after sophomore Michael Smiciklas smacked a double to move Labosky to third, and freshman Micah Carpenter did not fare much better as he finished the inning on the mound.
An intentional walk to Peter Zyla to load the bases backfired when Kone and Max Miller both roped RBI singles to right field from the bottom of the order, and Proctor plated Zyla with his second single of the inning after Herron flied out. When Carpenter picked Miller off at third base for the third out, Duke’s defense took the field for the bottom half of the fifth with a commanding 8-1 lead.
“We were in a position where we were trying to score with a productive out, meaning that runner on third with less than two [outs]—we’re trying to get a ball out to the outfield to score a run,” Pollard said. “Guys were looking for elevated pitches to be able to do that, and when they got their pitches, those turned into hits. We started to get some really good at-bats because we were disciplined in what we were trying to do.”
Graduate student Brian McAfee fanned a season-high eight batters in six innings of work on the mound, but ran into some trouble at the end of his outing as the Yellow Jackets mounted a threat to get back in the game.
Georgia Tech used two singles and a walk to load the bases with no outs and all three runners advanced on a run-scoring passed ball, but McAfee battled through the rest of the inning to minimize the damage. The Bothell, Wash., native induced an RBI groundout for the first out of the inning, and though the Yellow Jackets drove in one more run with a single by junior Ryan Peurifoy, McAfee retired two more batters to hand an 8-4 cushion to his bullpen.
“[McAfee was] really solid, walked two, struck out eight against a very good offense—one of the best offenses in our league—and was workmanlike,” Pollard said. “[He] did a great job of putting up a shutdown inning in the fifth after we had the big inning in the top of the fifth. [He] fatigued a little bit in the sixth, but it was a really solid start.”
Georgia Tech put two runners on base in the seventh inning against right-hander Ryan Day but could not push a run across, and Labosky and Mitch Stallings each pitched a scoreless inning to close out the game.
The Blue Devils reached double-digits in runs with two outs in the top of the ninth inning when two runs scored on a throwing error by shortstop Connor Justus as Kone reached on an infield single. The weekend marked the first time the Blue Devils scored at least 10 runs in back-to-back conference games since 2006.
The Blue Devils will play a home game on campus for the first time this season Tuesday when they take on UNC-Greensboro at Jack Coombs Field at 6 p.m.
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