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Duke baseball drops first 2 games of 2017 against Gonzaga and No. 9 Oregon State

<p>James Ziemba&nbsp;struggled early on against Gonzaga in the Blue Devils' first of two opening-day losses.&nbsp;</p>

James Ziemba struggled early on against Gonzaga in the Blue Devils' first of two opening-day losses. 

For the second time in three years, Duke headed west to open its season looking to find success away from home. 

But unlike in 2015—when the Blue Devils took two of three wins at California—the Blue Devils were unable to strike gold Friday afternoon.

Duke dropped both games of its season-opening doubleheader at Surprise Stadium in Surprise, Ariz., falling 6-1 to Gonzaga in the early contest before No. 9 Oregon State toppled the Blue Devils 6-3 thanks to a five-run second inning. Both Duke starters—James Ziemba and Mitch Stallings, who each primarily worked out of the Blue Devil bullpen last year—struggled to find their footing and put their team in early holes during both games.

And although the duo combined to surrender 10 runs on 12 hits in just 6.2 innings, Duke head coach Chris Pollard was mildly pleased with his junior hurlers who entered Friday with just four career starts between them.

"In James' case, I thought he pitched well and I thought he had a good quality start," Pollard said. "He was a little amped up and had the adrenaline going early and kind of got out of his delivery in the first inning, but he settled in after that.... Mitch had a tough day, he fell behind and lost a couple of those at-bats to walks."

After the Bulldogs (1-1) jumped out to a three-run lead in the top of the first inning on three hits, a hit batter and a wild pitch by Ziemba, the 6-foot-10 southpaw found his groove. The redshirt junior lasted into the fifth inning and allowed just one unearned run the rest of the way before exiting the game.

But with the Blue Devil offense lacking any pop, Duke (0-2) could not find its way back into the contest. Griffin Conine looked to spark a two-out rally in the seventh inning, scoring on an RBI double by sophomore Zach Kone, but Gonzaga starter Justin Vernia shut down the Blue Devils as he did all afternoon, tossing eight innings of one-run ball on just 104 pitches.

Duke's lone bright spot Friday, however, was its bullpen. The Blue Devil relievers took advantage of plenty of innings due to their starters' struggles—in 10.1 innings, they held the Bulldogs and Beavers to two unearned runs on just seven hits. 

"I was really pleased with our bullpen in both games," Pollard said. "We're going to get good starts.... But I was very encouraged to see our guys come in out of the 'pen and compete as good as they did."

It was more of the same for Duke in the second game of the afternoon, battling an Oregon State team that finds itself back in the top 10 after missing the NCAA tournament for the first time in eight years last season. 

Although Stallings was able to escape the first inning with a double play, the Beavers pounded the junior in the second, racking up five runs capped by a three-run blast from reigning Pac-12 Freshman of the Year Nick Madrigal. Oregon State (2-0) tacked on another run in the bottom of the third, but not before the Blue Devils had a quick response.

Freshman Chase Cheek—who finished with a pair of singles and started his first two collegiate games—singled with one out and was followed by an RBI double from sophomore Jimmy Herron. Conine then tripled down the right-field line to pull Duke back within three.

The Blue Devils could not muster much more at the plate, though, adding just one more run in the seventh inning, despite lineups that featured as many as six returning starters from last season.

"Ultimately, we had good at-bats from the seventh inning on in the first game," Pollard said. "We've got to string them together. We had some strikeouts at key times, strikeouts with runners in scoring position and you can't do that."

Duke will get not one, but two chances at revenge during the remainder of its weekend in Arizona. The Blue Devils will battle the Bulldogs again Saturday at noon and then challenge the Beavers Sunday at 11:30 a.m.

Mitchell Gladstone | Sports Managing Editor

Twitter: @mpgladstone13

A junior from just outside Philadelphia, Mitchell is probably reminding you how the Eagles won the Super Bowl this year and that the Phillies are definitely on the rebound. Outside of The Chronicle, he majors in Economics, minors in Statistics and is working toward the PJMS certificate, in addition to playing trombone in the Duke University Marching Band. And if you're getting him a sandwich with beef and cheese outside the state of Pennsylvania, you best not call it a "Philly cheesesteak." 


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