After taking a week off for final exams, Duke is set to resume its conference slate this weekend against its in-state rival in a top-10 matchup.

The ninth-ranked Blue Devils will do battle with Tobacco Road rival No. 3 North Carolina this weekend at the Durham Bulls Athletic Park. The series will kick off Friday at 6 p.m. followed by a pair of games Saturday and Sunday, with first pitch in each of those at 1 p.m. 

While Duke and North Carolina have been archrivals for more than 100 years, their rivalry on the field has rarely been competitive, with the Tar Heels dominating over the last few decades. The Blue Devils have won just a single series against North Carolina since 2010.

“It’s neat that you’re playing a rivalry series and there’s so much on the line,” Duke head coach Chris Pollard said. “That’s been what we’ve been trying to grow this program to.... A lot of times through that process it’s two steps forward and one step back and it has been at times, but we’ve believed from the beginning of this year that this team was capable of doing some very special things and competing on a national level, and certainly we’ve done that for most of this season.”

This Blue Devil team is no stranger to top-10 series. This weekend’s series marks the third top-10 series for Duke (36-11, 15-8 in the ACC), which took two games from then-No. 9 Florida State and dropped two out of three to then-No. 2 N.C. State in mid-April.

The Tar Heels (33-14, 18-6) have been driven by their prolific offense, which has averaged better than seven runs per contest on the season while powering 45 home runs. Kyle Datres has been North Carolina’s most consistent hitter, leading the team in batting average, doubles and stolen bases with respective marks of .340, 13 and nine. The Blue Devils also need to be careful with Michael Busch, whose team-high 11 home runs and 48 RBIs have made numerous pitchers’ days miserable this season.

Pollard feels the Tar Heels are playing as well as any team in the nation entering this weekend’s series.

“They’re playing exceptionally well right now. If you look at the last month, they’re playing as well as anybody in the country,” Pollard said. “They’re No. 3 in the country nationally, they’re No. 3 in the RPI, but they’ve certainly been the best team in the country over the last month. So we have our hands full, we have our work cut out for us.”

Playing against a pesky offensive unit, Duke will need to make sure its pitching is on point for the entirety of each ballgame. Luckily for the Blue Devils, their bullpen has been outstanding for the majority of the season. 

Senior Jack Labosky has yet to allow a run on the season. Opponents have hit just .160 over 25 2/3 innings against the hard-throwing righty, who leads the team with eight saves. Graduate student Ethan DeCaster has also paced the bullpen with his 0.70 ERA in 38 1/3 innings pitched. The Shoreview, Minn., native has struck out more than a batter per inning during that span as well.

On the offensive side, Duke will continue to be led by freshman sensation Joey Loperfido, who leads the Blue Devils with his .331 average. The freshman is the lone Duke player batting better than .300 and, alongside Jimmy Herron at the top of the lineup, has done a good job of getting the Blue Devils in position to drive in runs. 

“The one thing about this group is they’ve been very good at staying where their feet are and committing to the moment,” Pollard said. “That’s been a big reason why they’ve been so successful, and I expect us to continue to do that.”

Following this weekend’s series, the Blue Devils will close out the regular season with four consecutive road contests. Duke will face Liberty Tuesday before traveling to Atlanta for a three-game set against Georgia Tech.