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Duke baseball extends best start since 2008 with series win against Northwestern

<p>Michael Rothenberg added a pair of dingers this weekend.</p>

Michael Rothenberg added a pair of dingers this weekend.

After a weekend of rain delays, Duke pushed through a long Saturday to serve up a double-header sweep against Northwestern but finished with its first loss on Sunday.

With their Friday game postponed, the Blue Devils went into their Saturday with a double-header scheduled at Jack Combs Field. The team was unfazed by the unfavorable weather, winning both of the Saturday games. On the flip side, Sunday’s sunshine brought Duke the first loss of its season. Ending the weekend with a 6-1 record, this is the best start the Blue Devils have had since 2008, even with their record-breaking season last year.

“We’re really jelling well, I think a big part of that success is veterans,” said sophomore Michael Rothenberg. “Those guys are able to keep us focused in every game we play and we’re just swinging well and playing good defense.”

Two clutch hits in the drawn-out first game of the series delivered the Blue Devils a win against the Wildcats. Rudy Maxwell’s walk-off double in the bottom of the 10th inning pushed across junior Erikson Nichols as the game-winning run. The freshman was able to close out the game amidst the pressure of two outs for Duke lingering over his shoulders.

“Coach speaks a lot about fog of war and being where your feet are,” said Maxwell. “I guess I was just where my feet were, saw a pitch out, knew I could take him out on that so I got a good pitch to hit and swung hard.”

Although Maxwell’s hit was key, Rothenberg is to thank for his essential hit that pulled the Blue Devils up to a tie with their opponents.

In their first game, a homer by Maxwell led the team to a 1-0 start in the third inning. This was Maxwell’s first career run, and the strong start for the freshman showed to follow through the day.

Strong pitching by junior Graeme Stinson held the claws of the Wildcats off from snatching any runs within the first four innings.

In the top of the fifth, Northwestern (3-4) stole the lead as it put up three runs against the Blue Devils at the hands of sophomore Matt Dockman. In the top of the eighth, Northwestern put up another run that was soon responded to.

Rothenberg hit a home run during the bottom of the eighth that drove sophomore Tyler Wardwell and graduate student Kyle Gallagher in to tie the game. The comeback proved to be effective, and Duke took the first win of the series.

The second game of the series was a huge blowout, as the Blue Devils brought in 23 runs against Northwestern’s eight. The Wildcats led with a strong 5-0 start at the top of the third, but an explosive 12-run response by Duke sent Northwestern to its doomed fate. Pitiful pitching by the visitors led the Blue Devils to go nine runs without even a single out.

The Wildcats desperately tried to cut the lead, adding three runs within the fourth and sixth innings. Northwestern was on the road to a comeback, but was immediately halted by Duke’s 11 insurance runs and poor fielding of its own.

“Two innings of 10 plus runs in that game feels really good as an offense, we were able to get involved and to get good pitches to hit,” said Rothenberg. “As coach always says hitting is contagious so when you’ve got guys hitting it just keeps flowing and when you send twelve guys to the plate in one inning that’s a pretty good day.”

Northwestern held an early lead in the final game of the series, with a run in the top of the second. The fourth inning saw some action as the Wildcats tacked on another run that was quickly responded to with a hit by Gallagher in the right side that brought Maxwell home. Freshman Kyle Salley replaced freshman Cooper Stinson for his first career game on the mound, and held Northwestern scoreless.

The Blue Devils tied up the game at the bottom of the sixth thanks to another hit by Gallagher, but the Wildcats answered with three more runs of their own. Duke would not go away as Rothenberg cracked his second home run of the series. However, the Blue Devils were unable to bring it home and earned the first blemish of their season.

“Northwestern’s a really great team, credit to them they played great baseball and we did one too many things wrong today,” said Rothenberg on their first loss. “There were just a few small plays here and there. It’s just baseball, that’s how it goes.”

Duke will return to the field against Richmond this Tuesday at the Durham Bulls Athletic Park.

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