Duke may have lost seven players from last season’s Super Regional team to the MLB Draft. But one player the Blue Devils do return is star pitcher Graeme Stinson.
And despite a short outing, the junior southpaw showed why he is projected to go in the first round of this year’s draft.
No. 22 Duke defeated Lehigh 7-0 in its season opener Friday afternoon at Durham Bulls Athletic Park as Stinson picked up the win with three innings of one-hit ball while striking out six. Although he was primarily used as a reliever during his first two seasons donning the blue and white, the Norcross, Ga. native did not find it difficult to adjust to an opening-day starter role.
“Somebody asked [Stinson] at the media lunch if he felt like he could get comfortable starting and he was like ‘Yeah, I have been a starter all my life up to the last 2 years,’” head coach Chris Pollard said. "He really feels like this is something that is comfortable for him because this is kind of more comfortable than what he has been doing coming out of the pen for us the last couple years.”
Stinson’s performance was cut short due to a planned pitch count heading into the game, which Pollard said was either three innings or 50 pitches—whichever came first. The Blue Devil relievers, however, were just as dominant, tossing a no-hitter the rest of the way and allowing just two more baserunners.
Hunter Davis was the first to come in, throwing three more shutout innings. Junior Bill Chillari followed suit by striking out all six batters he faced before sophomore Thomas Girard finished the Mountain Hawks (0-1) off in the ninth.
Duke’s pitchers totaled eighteen strikeouts on the day.
“I thought we were really aggressive to the zone,” Pollard said. “I thought we featured good stuff. We have got got a little bit of an advantage over those guys in that they are coming out of the cold, so they have not had an opportunity to go live as much as we have. And that attributed to some of the swing-and-miss tonight.
"I told our guys, 'Do not expect that club to swing and miss as much over the rest of the weekend now that they have kind of gotten their feet underneath them.'”
The Blue Devils (1-0) were not the only team boasting talented arms, though. Lehigh’s own opening-day starter, Levi Stoudt, is projected to be an early-round draft pick as well. Stoudt finished the day with only one earned run in 3 1/3 innings of work.
Naturally, two top draft prospects taking the mound will draw the attention of MLB teams—there were approximately 20-25 scouts sitting behind home plate.
But Stinson has never let that kind of stuff faze him, and Friday was no different.
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“Were there?” Stinson said in response to the number of scouts at the game. "You get used to it. I have been seeing them for a while since I was 16, 17 so it is not a big deal anymore.”
Duke’s offense, on the other hand, was carried by junior infielder Erikson Nichols. Despite notching only four hits all of last season, the Orawell, N.J. finished the day 3-for-4 with two RBIs. Senior captain outfielder Kennie Taylor added two RBIs of his own, while sophomore Joey Loperfido—the Blue Devils’ only other returning starter outside of Taylor—walked twice and scored two runs out of the leadoff spot.
The Blue Devils’ defense was also a huge part in the team’s victory. While the Mountain Hawks fumbled their way to three errors in the field, Duke—known as one of the best defensive teams in the country—finished without any blunders.
We looked really good defensively as well,” Stinson said. “It was a big team effort tonight. Threw seven runs on the board...that is a good team game right there.”
Duke will finish the weekend series against Lehigh with a 2 p.m. start Saturday and a 1 p.m. first pitch Sunday. Sophomore Bryce Jarvis will take the mound Saturday for the Blue Devils, while freshman Cooper Stinson—Graeme’s brother—will make his first collegiate start in the series finale.