Duke baseball falls to Durham Bulls on last-gasp play at the plate in Battle in the Bull City

<p>Max Miller's slapped a pitch into right field in the second inning for an RBI single to score Duke's lone run of the night.</p>

Max Miller's slapped a pitch into right field in the second inning for an RBI single to score Duke's lone run of the night.

With one of the ACC’s worst pitching staffs slated to face a lineup featuring three of the top 100 professional prospects in all of baseball, the Blue Devils’ midseason exhibition contest had all the makings of a potential thrashing.

Yet, Duke put up a solid fight against its Triple-A opponent Tuesday night before coming up just short.

The Blue Devils’ five pitchers limited the Durham Bulls to just two combined runs on six hits, but Duke struggled to find an offensive rhythm against stellar pitching from the hosts en route to a 2-1 defeat at the Durham Bulls Athletic Park. In front of a crowd of more than 4,000, Bulls hurlers Ryan Yarbrough and Jeff Ames set down 17 straight Blue Devils between the third and eighth innings before a Chase Cheek single in the penultimate frame ended the streak.

Although the outcome was a familiar one for a team that has been unable to find similar success to last season, Duke head coach Chris Pollard and his team acknowledged the unique challenges of facing a professional team.

“The most impressive thing for me was the way we swung the bats, considering we don’t get a lot of practice during the year in a live-game setting,” Pollard said. “[The players] realized we were getting kind of manhandled a little bit by some pro guys who are really good at what they do. But to their credit, they kept riding it and had some really good at-bats there at the end.”

The Blue Devils sent freshman Graeme Stinson to the hill, and the first-year southpaw showed no fear from the outset. He struck out a pair of Bulls in the bottom of the first inning, including shortstop Willy Adames—baseball’s No. 10 prospect according to Baseball America—and surrendered just one run in four innings of work.

Duke’s wins leader through 31 games, Stinson has had his share of ups and downs through his first two months of college baseball. The Norcross, Ga., native has tallied 34 strikeouts to just eight walks, but his 6.52 ERA is the highest of any Blue Devil with at least four starts.

“I’ve learned my lesson the last couple of weeks in not giving hitters too much credit,” Stinson said. “They’re going to get themselves out more than seven out of 10 times—you’ve just got to trust your stuff and not let that get in your head.”

Duke opened the scoring in the second inning when junior Jack Labosky led off the inning with a double that landed at the base of the right-field wall. After left fielder Michael Smiciklas flied out to left, second baseman Max Miller slapped an RBI single into right field, giving his team the early 1-0 advantage.

As the Blue Devils’ bats went silent following a Peter Zyla single to start off the third inning, though, the Bulls finally got to Stinson to knot the game at one apiece. Adames belted a leadoff double of his own to start the bottom of the fourth inning and the following batter, left fielder Jake Bauers, brought him across on an RBI single up the middle.

The Bulls added another run in the next inning with a triple from center fielder Johnny Field that sailed over the head of Duke center fielder Jimmy Herron. A single down the left-field line then scored Field, putting the Bulls up 2-1 and giving the home side a lead it would not relinquish.

The highlight of the night came during the top of the ninth, however, when Durham native Aaron Therien stepped to the plate for only his second career plate appearance.

The walk-on catcher poked a double all the way down the left-field line into the corner, giving Duke some late life as it looked to tie the game in the final frame. Therien was waved around third on a single by sophomore Kennie Taylor two batters later—but even with a slick slide, he was unable to avoid the tag of Bulls catcher Mike Marjama for what would have been a game-tying run.

“I told him several times when he entered into this journey that there were no guarantees and we likely didn’t have a spot for him,” Pollard said. “We [as a staff] had said we were going to get him one at-bat, regardless of what happens tonight. He deserves it, he’s earned it, and then for him to go get a double like that is icing on the cake.”

The Blue Devils will return to ACC play this weekend as they head to Coral Gables, Fla., for a three-game set against Miami.

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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