CHOPPED: Florida State stops Duke baseball's magical ACC tournament run

<p>First baseman Jalen Phillips is the lone graduating player in Duke's lineup with the season coming to a close Saturday.</p>

First baseman Jalen Phillips is the lone graduating player in Duke's lineup with the season coming to a close Saturday.

With five ACC title game appearances, two conference titles and a pair of College World Series appearances, there arguably has been no program in the league more dominant than Florida State in the last eight seasons.

And despite a surprise Duke run to this year's ACC semifinals, the Blue Devils' season almost certainly came to an end Saturday afternoon against the same Seminole side.

No. 9 seed Duke mustered just two hits against Florida State starter Cole Sands, whose 6 2/3 shutout innings on the hill helped eighth-seeded Florida State earn its spot in a third consecutive ACC title game with a 5-1 win at Louisville Slugger Park in Louisville, Ky. The Seminoles attacked Blue Devil freshman Adam Laskey for four runs in the first 2 1/3 innings and never looked back as Duke failed to threaten, putting only four runners in scoring position all game.

Although the Blue Devils' pair of upset victories against No. 4 seed Virginia and fifth-seeded Clemson earlier in the week gave Duke a chance to play its way into the NCAA tournament this weekend, the Blue Devils—without an automatic bid—will probably be on the outside looking in when the bracket is released at noon Monday.

"I don't think we played that poorly today. I thought Florida State did a good job of being on time with fastballs in positive counts through the first couple of innings," Duke head coach Chris Pollard said in the postgame press conference. "But the story of the ballgame today—we ran into a buzzsaw. Cole Sands was as good as anybody we have seen this year. Stuff was really electric. I thought his fastball played up, and we just couldn't generate enough offense to kind of claw our way back into the ballgame."

As Sands kept Duke (30-28) in check from the hill, Seminole third baseman Dylan Busby did a heavy dose of damage at the plate. The junior finished the afternoon 3-of-5 at the plate with a home run, two doubles, three RBIs and two runs.

But it was not Busby alone. Together, Florida State's first four hitters went a combined 8-of-15 with all five RBIs, and the Seminoles capitalized on three of their six opportunities with runners in scoring position.

In the opening frame, after Busby doubled with one out, Florida State's Jackson Lueck tripled on a ball that nearly left the yard. Instead, it hit off the wall and then the foot of Duke left fielder Jimmy Herron, bouncing away from the Blue Devil sophomore.

Lueck scored one batter later on a groundout to shortstop, extending the Seminole lead to 2-0 before a Busby blast to left-center two innings later doubled their advantage. After Laskey was lifted, however, the Duke bullpen slowed Florida State's offense—the Seminoles (38-20) managed only one run on five hits in the final 5 2/3 frames.

"I was really pleased with the way our bullpen stepped up and kept the game within striking distance," Pollard said. "[It was a] really good effort by [Kevin] Lewallyn and [Karl] Blum and Chris McGrath to hold the ballgame right where it was and give us a chance."

Following Busby's two-out RBI double in the bottom of the fourth to make it 5-0 in favor of Florida State, the bats went silent for both teams. Neither team put up a run from the fifth through eighth innings, as the Blue Devils went down in order in three of the four frames.

The game paused for 90 minutes in the top of the seventh due to rain, yet Duke could not capitalize on the delay that forced Sands to exit the game.

It was not until the Blue Devils' final three outs that they finally threatened the Seminoles with their bats. 

Herron lined a single to right to lead off the top of the ninth and designated hitter Michael Smiciklas nearly put one over the right-field wall—but it fell just short and into the glove of Florida State's Steven Wells on the warning track. 

From there, singles from Griffin Conine and Jack Labosky allowed Herron to come around and score Duke's lone run of the afternoon.

"When we were down late in games [earlier this season], we didn't do that as much and I think that just kind of shows how much we've grown," Blue Devil infielder Max Miller said. "We had to come back in the first two games, and everyone thought we had a chance to do that in the last inning too."

A swinging strikeout by Kennie Taylor and a flyout by Zack Kone, however, ended Duke's last-gasp rally—and probably its season. The Blue Devils entered Saturday 86th in the RPI rankings, well behind all of the teams currently in Baseball America's projected last four out.

"I feel very good about the way our team played and competed over the course of this week. I don't know that many people outside of our program expected us to come in and compete and play as tough as we did," Pollard said. "We weren't that team early in the year, and that's why I'm very proud of the growth that this team has shown. I didn't feel like we were a very tough team. I didn't think we had a lot of competitive fight early on. But this team has grown. They have stuck together."

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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