Coming off a surprisingly close series at No. 2 Louisville last weekend, Duke entered Friday’s doubleheader against Notre Dame looking to build off its momentum.
Instead, the Blue Devils found themselves reflecting on a familiar outcome after dropping the third game for their seventh ACC series loss in a row.
Duke fell to Notre Dame 3-2 in the series rubber match Saturday on a walk-off triple from Mike Vierling at Frank Eck Stadium in South Bend, Ind. The Blue Devils came back from a two-run deficit to tie the game in the top of the eighth, but Duke wasted one of junior Ryan Day’s best starts of the season, as he allowed just two runs spread across a career-high eight innings. The loss came a day after the Blue Devils split Friday’s doubleheader with the Irish, dropping the first game 5-4 before storming back with a 10-run inning late in the second game for a 14-1 blowout.
“This weekend, I thought we played well in all three ballgames. We just came up a little bit short in two of them,” Duke head coach Chris Pollard said. “They’re competitive ballgames, you’re on the road. [We were] a swing away from taking two on the road. I think we’re close to putting it together and winning a series.”
With one out in the top of the ninth inning in the third game of the series, sophomore Kennie Taylor stood 90 feet from home, representing the go-ahead run and one of the Blue Devils' best chances to win their first ACC series since their conference opener against Virginia Tech.
However, a groundout and a flyout later, Duke (23-23, 9-15 in the ACC) headed to the bottom of the ninth empty-handed with the game still tied at two. Junior Jack Labosky entered the game looking to hold the Irish, who had managed just one hit off Day since the third inning. Notre Dame (22-23, 10-14) got a man on with a five-pitch walk before attempting a sacrifice bunt that Labosky jumped on and fired to second to nab the lead runner.
With one out and a man on first, Vierling stepped up to the plate for the Fighting Irish. Vierling was 1-for-3 entering the at-bat, but had hit the ball hard into outs in his last two plate appearances. On the third pitch of the at-bat, Vierling ripped the ball into the right-center field gap to clinch the series victory.
“It’s tough. Today in the eighth, we had the bases loaded with [Griffin] Conine, our best player, at the plate. We had a tough check-swing call go against us. There in the ninth, [Sean] Guenther executed some pretty good pitches,” Pollard said. “We didn’t get [hits] there in a couple spots late in the first game yesterday, we did in the second game yesterday, and we didn’t come up with that big hit in the seventh or eighth today.”
One of the lone bright spots of the day for the Blue Devils was the performance of Day, who gave up just five hits while striking out five batters and walking just one. Day was nearly perfect from the fourth inning onward, giving up just one hit in his final five innings of the day. Notre Dame starter Brad Bass was nearly as good, staying perfect for the first four innings of the game and giving up two runs—one earned—in seven innings of work.
"Ryan gave up the three hits there in the first inning and they pushed two across, and then he just settled in and pitched great. [He] just put a bunch of zeroes on the board and allowed us to stay in the ballgame,” Pollard said. “Bass was very, very good, especially early in the ballgame. He just attacked the zone, and we couldn’t really string anything together against him, but Ryan did a great job of keeping us in the ballgame.”
Duke has played in five ACC series this season in which it has split the first two games and entered the finale with the chance to take the series victory. The Blue Devils are 0-5 and have been outscored 43-12 in the final games of those series.
“It’s not necessarily the third game, because we’ve won the third game of the series back-to-back weekends versus Miami and Boston College. It’s just stringing together three ballgames in a row,” Pollard said. "This weekend, we were as close as we’ve been to doing that.”
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Duke appeared to be off to a good start in the first game in South Bend on Friday, bouncing back from a 2-0 deficit to take a 4-3 lead into the sixth inning. However, the Blue Devils could not put a run on the board after that, managing just two hits off Notre Dame’s Peter Solomon, who provided four scoreless innings of relief. The Fighting Irish tied the game in the bottom of the sixth, then took the lead in the eighth on an unearned run.
Junior Mitch Stallings delivered a quality start in the opening game, giving up four runs total and three earned runs across six innings. Three of those runs came in the first inning after a sequence of poor timing and bad luck for the Blue Devils—following a dropped pop fly that put the leadoff man aboard, three consecutive singles put Notre Dame up 2-0 early. But Stallings pitched out of a bases-loaded jam to escape the inning without further damage, finishing his sixth straight quality start with seven strikeouts and just two walks.
“Mitch Stallings had a great start in the first game. [He was] victimized by some bad luck in the first, we made a mistake behind him and then he had some seeing-eye contact that kind of fell in, but he did a good job of pitching through that,” Pollard said. “He still managed to give us another quality start, got us into the sixth inning, and kept us in the ballgame.”
The second game had none of the drama of the other two. Freshman southpaw Adam Laskey gave Duke a strong start, and the Blue Devil offense exploded in the eighth inning for 10 runs to put the game out of reach. Duke scored 14 runs for the second time in three days, having blown out Presbyterian 14-6 last Wednesday
As ACC play begins to wind down, the Blue Devils are looking ahead to a midweek rematch against nonconference foe Campbell before taking on Georgia Tech, one of the worst teams in the conference thus far, at home next weekend.