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Duke baseball doomed by costly errors in loss to No. 11 East Carolina

In their first marquee home game of the season on campus at Jack Coombs field, a series of miscues and misplays sent the Blue Devils to a disappointing defeat.

No. 8 Duke fell to No. 11 East Carolina 9-2 Tuesday night in front of an energized pro-Pirate crowd, as East Carolina put up two runs in the fourth and fifth innings with the help of an errant throw to third base in both frames to take control. It was the Blue Devils' first midweek defeat of the season.

Duke's fielding woes started when redshirt sophomore Jake Washer blooped a high pop fly into shallow right-center field between second baseman Max Miller, center fielder Kennie Taylor and right fielder Griffin Conine to lead off the fourth inning. None of the three Blue Devils took charge to track the ball down as it dropped for a single. Washer later scored on a hard-hit double by junior Connor Litton to even the score at 1-1.

"We didn’t communicate on the ball that fell in the outfield. That should be an out," Duke head coach Chris Pollard said. "We’ve got to catch that ball to start the inning."

Litton did not waste time before trying to steal third with one out, and catcher Chris Proctor bounced his throw into right field for the Blue Devils' first error in six games since April 6 to allow Litton to trot home safely.

Freshman Bryce Jarvis entered the game to relieve Duke starter Bill Chillari in the fifth inning, but walked the No. 9 hitter in East Carolina's order—Drew Henrickson—on five pitches to start another long inning in the field for the Blue Devils. 

With two runners on and nobody out, Brady Lloyd pushed a bunt back to Chillari with a chance to get the lead runner out at third. But Chillari's throw sailed past Jack Labosky and into foul territory in the outfield once again, allowing Henrickson to score and every runner to advance two bases.

"That’s the right call, and we just didn’t make the throw, and those two plays both led to them having big innings right there in the fourth and fifth," Pollard said. "If we catch the ball to start the fourth, if we make the play on the bunt, those two innings probably play out dramatically differently and perhaps the ballgame plays out differently."

Chillari minimized the damage from there, only allowing one more run to score in the inning, but the Pirates (27-9) tacked on an insurance run after leading off the sixth inning with a double.

The Blue Devils (30-8) started the scoring with a run in the bottom of the first inning after leadoff man Jimmy Herron got hit in the back and Chris Proctor singled him to third base. Herron scored on a sacrifice fly by junior Chris Proctor to give Duke an early advantage.

The Blue Devils a run in the seventh inning on back-to-back doubles by freshman Joey Loperfido and finished the night with six hits, but had two baserunners erased at first base. Proctor got picked off to end the third inning after singling again, and Max Miller got doubled off when he ventured too far off the base on a line-out to the shortstop in the fifth.

"In the first situation where Proctor got picked off, he was in a jab step, so he was jabbing just to try to see what he could get out of the pitcher, and then when he went to plant to go back to first base, he slipped," Pollard said. "Max got a little bit too far off right there for a line-drive situation. The rule of thumb there is one step back toward the bag on a head-high line drive."

East Carolina piled on four more runs in the top of the ninth to shut down any hopes Duke had a late comeback.

The Blue Devils will get three more chances to notch a landmark win at Jack Coombs Field this weekend in a series against No. 2 N.C. State, with Wolfpack fans sure to fill the small park like East Carolina's contingent did Tuesday.

"It feels good," Pollard said of the atmosphere. "It’ll feel better when we play better."


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