Four-run fourth inning lifts East Carolina to win against Duke baseball

<p>Sophomore leadoff man Jimmy Herron got two hits Wednesday but did not get much help from the rest of the lineup.</p>

Sophomore leadoff man Jimmy Herron got two hits Wednesday but did not get much help from the rest of the lineup.

With their most important ACC series on the horizon, the Blue Devils made the short trip to Greenville, N.C. Wednesday night, looking to maintain the momentum they gained with a 9-0 rout of Campbell Tuesday.

Instead, the Pirates robbed the visitors of a possible winning streak.

After scoring a first-inning run with a pair of hits, Duke went silent the rest of the night, scattering just four hits across the final eight frames as it fell to East Carolina 5-1 at Clark-LeClair Stadium. The Pirates erupted for four runs in the fourth inning to blow the game wide open after it was tied at one apiece, and the Blue Devils could never recover.

"We hit into a couple of double plays and that hurt us," Duke head coach Chris Pollard said. "That takes you out of an opportunity to string something together and I didn't think we did a great job of adjusting to their starting pitcher after he settled in."

East Carolina sent right-hander Kirk Morgan to the mound for the midweek matchup, and after allowing the Blue Devils to open up the scoring in the first inning, the Pirate senior found his groove. Kirk, a Charlotte, N.C., native, hurled six innings and tallied five strikeouts with no walks.

With Pollard leaning on a number of pitchers as Duke played its second game in as many days, the Blue Devil arms settled down after allowing an East Carolina run to cross the plate in the bottom half of the first.

But it would not last long, as freshman Matt Mervis found himself in trouble in the fourth inning. 

Following a groundout, bunt single and sacrifice, the Pirate offense came to life—with a man on second and two outs, East Carolina took the lead and loaded the bases with an RBI single from shortstop Turner Brown sandwiched between a pair of walks.

And once Mervis was lifted for redshirt junior James Ziemba, things did not get much better for the Blue Devils.

"If you get that out, you look at the rest of the ballgame and we pitched pretty well," Pollard said. "You need to be able to get off the field right there."

Although Ziemba's final line looks rather innocent—all four runs were charged to Mervis—the 6-foot-10 southpaw was unable to limit the damage after he took over. An RBI single and a pair of hit batsmen allowed the hosts to add to their lead before the Hillsborough, N.J., native settled in to throw two innings of one-hit ball.

But with the Duke offense silent, it was never able to climb out of the hole. Despite the Blue Devil bullpen holding the Pirates without a run for the final four innings, Duke struggled to find consistency throughout its order.

Left fielder Jimmy Herron led the way out of the leadoff spot with a 2-for-3 performance that included a run and a double, yet the last five spots in the Blue Devil order combined to go just 1-of-16 at the plate with four strikeouts.

"The key to consistency is that you get several guys in your lineup give you three quality at-bats a night," Pollard said. "We didn't get a lot of production out of the bottom of the lineup tonight, and when you're not getting production out of a third of your lineup, it gets hard to string anything together in a way that you can push a lot of runs across."

Ground-ball double plays in the seventh and eighth innings kept the Duke offense at bay, and the Blue Devils never seemed to have a path back into the contest. East Carolina relievers Tyler Smith and Matt Bridges needed just 25 pitches to get through the final three frames and seal the victory.

Duke will now turn its attention to a weekend series against Georgia Tech. The Blue Devils and Yellow Jackets are both battling for the last few spots in the ACC tournament, which will take place later this month in Louisville, Ky., and Duke is in search of its first series win since early March, when it took two of three games from Virginia Tech.

If there were ever a time for the Blue Devils to earn a couple of crucial victories, this weekend would be just that.

"The goal is to win Friday night and then when we wake up Saturday morning, we'll go out and get ready to compete," Pollard said.

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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