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Hot start, timely pitching spark first Duke baseball series win against Florida State since 1994

<p>Freshman leadoff hitter Jimmy Herron recorded three hits&mdash;including two doubles&mdash;a run and an RBI to lead Duke to its first series win against Florida State since 1994.</p>

Freshman leadoff hitter Jimmy Herron recorded three hits—including two doubles—a run and an RBI to lead Duke to its first series win against Florida State since 1994.

A day after one of the Blue Devils’ biggest wins of the season, there was no letdown—Duke did something it had not in 22 years and continued to help its postseason odds.

The Blue Devils extended their winning streak to seven games with a 3-1 victory against No. 7 Florida State Saturday at the Durham Bulls Athletic Park, clinching their first series win against the Seminoles since 1994. Freshman Jimmy Herron was 3-for-4 with two doubles to lead Duke at the plate, and graduate student Trent Swart fanned a season-high nine batters in six innings in his final regular-season home start.

“As a pitching staff right now, we’re going to do what we need to do and we can go up against anyone as we’ve kind of proven all year,” Swart said. “Our team is as confident as it can be.”

Herron led off with a double off the Blue Monster—his second in two days—to jumpstart the Blue Devil offense, and Florida State starter Cole Sands struggled with command for the rest of the first inning to help Duke (31-20, 12-14 in the ACC) push the first run of the afternoon across.

Freshman Chris Proctor advanced Herron to third with a ground ball to the right side, and Sands hit sophomore Jack Labosky with a pitch to put runners on the corners with one out. A groundout by sophomore Justin Bellinger to Sands could not plate Herron as Labosky advanced to second, but Sands threw a wild pitch in the dirt that trickled far enough away from catcher Cal Raleigh for Herron to slide safely into home plate.

“Sands has a good slider and he would definitely go to it as an out pitch, and he had thrown a couple in the dirt earlier,” Herron said. “I didn’t get the best jump on it, but I saw it down and got a little bit of a kick, and I just beat him to the plate.”

The Seminoles (32-17, 14-8) responded with a small-ball run of their own in the second inning, putting runners on first and third with a walk and a single. Junior Ben DeLuzio then executed a safety squeeze well, laying down a bunt to drive in Dylan Busby.

The Blue Devils pulled ahead for good in the bottom of the second inning after a two-out walk by sophomore Max Miller brought Herron to the plate again. Miller advanced to second on a wild pitch, and Herron slapped a 1-1 pitch down the third-base line. 

Right fielder Steven Wells Jr. charged the fly and made a sliding effort, but the ball dropped inches fair and bounced by him for an RBI ground rule double.

“I kind of just fought that pitch off,” Herron said. “I didn’t think it was going to stay fair, and it just dropped in there and got a good bounce.”

For the second straight game, both offenses quieted down significantly after the first couple of innings, with the only run the rest of the afternoon coming on a sixth-inning solo home run by Bellinger.

Duke’s pitching staff then took care of the rest with one of its most impressive performances of the year. 

Swart left baserunners stranded in the third and fourth innings, but Florida State’s biggest threat to rally came in the top of the fifth. Wells led off with a single to usher in the top of the order, and leadoff hitter Taylor Walls grounded out to third base to move Wells to second.

Wells then strayed too far off second base and made the Seminoles’ first of two costly baserunning miscues of the game, as Swart spun and threw to Miller to pick Wells off for the second out.

“That was one of the plays of the game. [Pollard] always talks about us having that as a bullet in our gun,” Swart said. “Max put it on—great time for it—and we executed it. We caught the guy sleeping.”

A single up the middle by John Sansone on the next pitch would have scored Wells to tie the game at two, but instead resulted in a harmless baserunner when Cal Raleigh flied out to end the inning.

Swart exited after throwing a season-high 104 pitches through six innings, and freshman Al Pesto threw a perfect seventh to set Stallings up for the extended save opportunity.

“[Swart] pitched a tremendous game,” Pollard said. “[Pitching] coach [Pete] Maki went over and asked him at the end of the fifth—because he was approaching his pitch count—how he felt on a scale of one to 10, and he said, ‘I’m a 12 out of 10.’”

Stallings worked around a two-out single in the eighth frame and came back out for the ninth, when Florida State gifted the Blue Devils the first out.

Busby drilled a line drive off the Blue Monster in left field to lead off the ninth inning, rounded first and froze between first and second base as Herron fielded the hit and spun to throw to Miller at second. 

The throw was a couple of feet off line and Miller knocked it down, but Busby took off for second base when he saw the ball on the ground, allowing Miller to pick it up and tag him out several feet in front of the bag.

“We were aided by a couple outs on the bases,” Pollard said. “We were fortunate in the ninth to take advantage of an out, and that helped us to get off the field there in the ninth with a win.”

Stallings retired the last two batters of the inning after a one-out walk to seal the victory.

Duke will have a chance at its first ACC series sweep this season Sunday at 1 p.m.


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