Looking to keep its recent momentum going ahead of a critical three-game weekend series, the Blue Devils used a hot start to remain unbeaten all time against N.C. Central.
Duke's first four batters scored to start Wednesday's contest at the Durham Athletic Park and sophomore Jack Labosky hit a three-run home run in the opening frame, propelling the Blue Devils to a 4-2 win—their 14th in their last 19 games and 19th straight all time against N.C. Central. Nine Duke pitchers each pitched an inning apiece, with the Blue Devils holding the Eagles scoreless after James Ziemba surrendered two runs in the third inning.
Trent Swart retired the three batters he faced to pick up his second win of the season and Mitch Stallings tossed a scoreless ninth inning to earn his seventh save of the year. Although the first two Eagle batters got on base in the bottom of the seventh inning, Duke was able to turn a 4-6-3 double play to end the threat and will enter this weekend's series against N.C. State coming off a win.
“I thought we pitched very, very well,” Duke head coach Chris Pollard told GoDuke.com. “We had one walk in the ballgame. I thought our infield defense was the best I’ve seen it since I’ve been at Duke.”
The top of the Blue Devil lineup stayed hot to start the game, with Jimmy Herron leading off with a walk, followed by a Chris Proctor single and Labosky's three-run homer to immediately give Duke (24-18) a 3-0 lead. Sophomore Justin Bellinger then doubled for the Blue Devils and eventually came around to score on a Zack Kone sacrifice fly.
“I thought we had really good at bats,” Pollard said. “Again Jimmy [Herron] leads off the game and gets on first base. [Chris] Proctor had a good two-strike at bat. Jack [Labosky] got in a 1-0 count and sat fastball and didn’t miss it. [Justin] Bellinger came up behind him and had a good at bat.”
Although Ziemba allowed two runs in the third inning after Trevor Theissen launched an RBI triple and later scored on a sacrifice fly, Al Pesto, Nick Hendrix, Karl Blum, Ryan Day, Labosky and Stallings shut down N.C. Central (21-24) the rest of the game.
Swart and Bailey Clark pitched the first two innings for the Blue Devils, who were only able to generate two more hits off Eagle starter Jon Figueroa after their explosive first inning.
“Figueroa made a concerted effort to go offspeed heavy,” Pollard said. “He was pitching off his fastball. We were timed up on it. Then he just switched and starting throwing a lot of offspeed early in the count. Got our timing off and got us on our heels. He settled in and pitched a great ballgame for them.”
Duke will look to capture its fourth ACC series in five weekends on the road against the Wolfpack in a three-game series Friday through Sunday. The Blue Devils are hoping to lock up a spot in the ACC tournament in the coming weeks by finishing in the top five in the Coastal Division. Duke currently is tied for fifth in the division with North Carolina.
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