Duke baseball splits 2 contests with Georgia Tech on wild-pitch endings Saturday

Jack Labosky had 8 RBIs for the Blue Devils in a wild 14-13 win

<p>Sophomore Jack Labosky racked up eight RBIs&mdash;including two three-run homers&mdash;in the second game of this weekend's three-game series with Georgia Tech.</p>

Sophomore Jack Labosky racked up eight RBIs—including two three-run homers—in the second game of this weekend's three-game series with Georgia Tech.

The Blue Devils completed two very different games with two very different outcomes Saturday afternoon, but both ended with the same unlikely play for the go-ahead run.

Duke split the first two games in its three-game series with No. 23 Georgia Tech at Russ Chandler Stadium in Atlanta Saturday afternoon. After the first contest was suspended in the bottom of the seventh inning at a 2-2 draw Friday, the Blue Devils dropped the opener 3-2 after surrendering a run off of a wild pitch. 

In the second contest, Duke sophomore Jack Labosky belted two three-run home runs and finished with a career-high eight RBIs as both squads displayed their offensive prowess to combine for 27 runs and 33 hits. Freshman Griffin Conine scored on a wild pitch in the top of the 10th frame to give the Blue Devils a 14-13 win.

“These could not have been two more different ballgames,” Duke head coach Chris Pollard said. “The first game was a pitchers' duel with a wild pitch score to end it all, and the second was just kind of an ugly slug fest, and after all that it came down to a wild pitch again. Baseball is a funny sport, but these were character building games for our team, that’s for sure.”

The first game began as a battle of the pitchers. Blue Devil starter Bailey Clark held the Yellow Jackets (20-6, 6-5 in the ACC) scoreless through the first three innings before he gave up two runs in the bottom of the fourth. But the Asheville, N.C., native regained his rhythm and finished the outing with six strikeouts in 5.1 innings. 

After Georgia Tech struck first, Duke (13-14, 3-8) quickly rebounded when sophomore Justin Bellinger hit a two-run homer in the fifth frame to even the score. 

Play was then suspended in the bottom of the seventh inning due to torrential rain. 

When both squads returned to the field Saturday, the Yellow Jackets quickly recaptured their lead in the eighth. Georgia Tech center fielder Carter Hall smacked a one-out double into right field before advancing to third when Arden Pabst flied out. Hall then crossed the plate on a wild pitch by Labosky, who recorded his third loss of the year.   

The Blue Devils put two runners—Conine and Bellinger—on base in the top of the ninth, but Yellow Jacket closer Matthew Gorst escaped the inning and recorded the save when freshman Kennie Taylor struck out swinging. 

“It was sort of a tough-luck situation for us,” Pollard said. “[Labosky's] change-up wound up in the dirt and the ball kicked away just a few feet—barely wound up in the grass—but their baserunner made a great read on it and was able the score from third base. We really gave ourselves a chance to match up in the last two innings of the ball game. It was a game where our guys really had to show a lot of fight and not give in in the moment."

The second game took on a completely different tone from the first, with both teams swinging the bats to rally from a deficit of at least four runs in the first nine innings. But with the score knotted at 13-13 in the top of the 10th, the Blue Devils clinched the win without registering a hit. Conine began the inning with a leadoff walk before advancing to second on a sacrifice bunt by shortstop Zack Kone. After moving over to third thanks to a groundout by Evan Dougherty, Conine crossed the plate on a wild pitch by Gorst.

The second game marked the third contest in the last two Saturdays that was decided on a wild pitch after the Blue Devils fell 3-2 at Wake Forest last weekend.

Duke southpaw Mitch Stallings—who took the mound in the ninth inning—secured the victory for the Blue Devils, recording his first win of the season. 

Duke started off the game with a strong first inning. Labosky clobbered his first homer of the day over the wall in center to give Duke an early 3-0 lead before Bellinger delivered his second solo shot of the series. Jimmy Herron added an RBI single to end the top of the first with a 5-0 Blue Devil lead.

“We jumped out with five runs in the first and took really good swings,” Pollard said. “We hit back to back home runs and gathered some really good at-bats behind that. Jack had what a lot of guys would call a good week—and some guys a good month—with his eight RBIs. I can’t ever remember in my time coaching having a player that had eight RBIs in a ballgame.”

The Yellow Jackets would not go away without a fight. Georgia Tech capitalized on multiple Duke errors to go up 6-5 in the bottom of the second inning. But, the Blue Devils quickly tied the score, when center fielder Jimmy Herron doubled to right center in the seventh inning to drive in Kone.

The rest of the game was a back-and-forth affair until the 10th inning. The Yellow Jackets continued to take advantage of Duke's errors, scoring seven more runs off of three more mistakes. The Blue Devils finished the game with four miscues in the field.

“Game two was one of the stranger games I’ve ever been in in my whole career in college baseball,” Pollard said. “The first 12 runs of the game that they scored came with two outs, and all 12 were the product of us not making plays to get off the field and wound up extending innings, but I give our guys a lot of credit. We showed a lot of toughness because we were able to fight that and persevere through the mistakes and have an answer each time.”

Duke right-hander Brian McAfee will start against the Yellow Jackets Sunday at 1 p.m. and will look to secure the Blue Devils' first ACC series win of the season. 


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