One night after scoring 13 runs in a win at Davidson, timely hitting carried Duke to its third straight win.
The Blue Devils won their ninth out of 11 contests Wednesday evening with a 3-0 victory against N.C. Central at the Durham Bulls Athletic Park. Freshman catcher Chris Proctor led the way for Duke with a pair of singles and a sacrifice fly, driving in two of the three Blue Devil runs, and redshirt sophomore James Ziemba recorded his first win of the season with two innings of scoreless relief and six strikeouts as Duke picked up its third shut of the season.
“We got back late last night, [the Davidson] game started late, and just being able to turn around right away, get back, guys have early classes and stuff like that,” Ziemba said. “Being able to get on the board early [was key], and guys were throwing the ball well all day. We were able to bounce back and get ready for the weekend.”
Duke (19-15) plated a first-inning run off of N.C. Central starting Christian Gonnelli. Freshman outfielder Jimmy Herron led off with a single and stole second before advancing to third on a groundout by Proctor. Herron then ran home when Eagle shortstop Thomas Prospero committed an error as he tried to field a ground ball off the bat of designated hitter Cris Perez.
An inning later, Zack Kone led off with a double and scored on a Proctor line drive into the right-center field gap. But the inning came to an end when but center fielder Carlos Ortiz threw Proctor out as he was trying to advance to second.
“I got ahead in the count, and I didn’t want to be late on a fastball, and he threw me a breaking ball actually. And it was up in the zone, just what I was looking for, and so I drove it that way,” Proctor said. “When [the shortstop] caught the ball and I was a step away from the bag, I realized, 'I’m out.'"
From there, Gonnelli settled in, allowing just one more hit in his final four innings. He finished his six innings of work after allowing five hits, the two earned runs, five strikeouts and three walks.
The Blue Devils began to mount another threat in the fourth frame when Kone reached first after being hit by Gonnelli. But the Eagles (17-19) quickly caught Kone trying to steal second, and sophomore Max Miller flied out to end the inning.
“I felt like we let Gonnelli off the hook a little bit with a couple of base-running mistakes, and we just missed a couple of pitches,” Duke head coach Chris Pollard said. “And then credit Gonnelli because he settled in and really threw the baseball great. He got stronger as the game went on. The [sixth] inning was his most effective inning. His changeup kept the guys off-balance. He threw a good ballgame.”
After Gonnelli exited the game the Blue Devils put immediate pressure on Eagle southpaw Justice Sampson. Outfielder Michael Smiciklas led off with a single, and advanced to second on a fielder's choice when N.C. Central catcher Conrad Kovalvic threw late to second on Miller’s sacrifice bunt attempt. Both runners advanced on a sacrifice bunt by Herron, and Smiciklas scored on a Proctor sacrifice fly.
Duke utilized six different pitchers—five of them left-handers–who combined to shut out the Eagles. Although they allowed eight hits, the Blue Devil hurlers struck out 12 and stranded nine runners on base.
Trent Swart, typically the Blue Devils’ Saturday starter, contributed one inning, and Ziemba—who lowered his ERA to 2.82—and Kevin Lewellyn followed with two and three innings, respectively. Nick Hendrix, Jack Labosky and Mitch Stallings then secured the win in the final three frames.
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“They really knew how to throw strikes tonight, especially with the first pitch. They were really first pitch aggressive in the strike zone, and that really helps our staff,” Proctor said. “No walks, just attacking the strike zone, getting a lot of ground ball contact, and we can make plays.”
Duke’s busy stretch will continue as No. 1 Miami comes to town for a three-game series at Durham Bulls Athletic Park that begins Friday at 6 p.m. The Hurricanes ascended to the top spot in all major national polls this week.