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Duke baseball polishes off Lehigh for weekend series sweep, first 3-0 start since 2008

Sophomore Joey Loperfido drove in the game-winning run in the fifth inning with a go-ahead RBI single.
Sophomore Joey Loperfido drove in the game-winning run in the fifth inning with a go-ahead RBI single.

After convincing victories in his team's first two matchups of the season, Duke head coach Chris Pollard would finally get to see how the Blue Devils responded to some pressure. 

And following a long rain delay, they came through.

Duke maintained a one-run lead from the fifth inning on, including an 81-minute rain delay, to complete a series sweep with a 4-3 win against Lehigh Sunday afternoon at the Durham Bulls Athletic Park. A three-run fifth inning for the Blue Devils put them in front, while clutch pitching from the bullpen secured a victory. 

The win marks the first time that Duke has started 3-0 since 2008.

“We expected our pitching to come out and perform,” Pollard said. “I felt like today we grew a lot as a group because we had to grind that one out.”

Sophomore Matt Dockman and junior transfer Eli Herrick combined for 5 1/3 scoreless innings in relief to lead the Blue Devils. The Mountain Hawks were able to tally eight hits compared to Duke’s five, but the visitors were limited to just 1-of-11 hitting with runners in scoring position, including the last two outs of the game. Herrick stepped onto the mound after play resumed and was able to keep his young Blue Devil teammates focused on a win after the long delay.

“I thought they stayed poised,” Pollard said about his team after the rain delay. “I wondered because we’ve got a younger team in a lot of spots, a lot of inexperience out there. I wondered how we were going to come out of the rain delay. Were we going to be poised, were we going to be timid, were we going to be nervous? I thought we handled it well. I thought we stayed in the moment.”

Duke (3-0) opened up the scoring with an Erikson Nichols RBI groundout in the second inning to score Joey Loperfido. The lead was short-lived, however, as Lehigh took advantage of a Blue Devil mistake to grab the advantage in the third. With two outs in the inning and runners on the corners, the Mountain Hawks scored on a passed ball and then secured two more runs from an RBI single by Casey Rother and an RBI triple from Ryan Malloy.

Lehigh (0-3) could not hold off the hot-hitting Blue Devils, however, as freshman Ethan Murray drove in a pair to tie the game with a triple, and Duke took the lead after Loperfido drove the freshman in on the very next at-bat.

“We strung together some good at-bats against some good arms,” Pollard said. “Lehigh has a good club, and that’s a team that’s going to win a lot of ballgames over the course of this year.”

The Mountain Hawks threatened once again in the ninth with a one-out double, but more clutch pitching from Herrick produced two straight strikeouts and a Blue Devil victory.

“Herrick executed some really good pitches,” Pollard said. “The thing for me that was really impressive was two different times in the ninth, he missed really bad with a slider, and he came back with it on the next pitch and executed it.”

Next up, Duke will travel to Charlotte, where it will take on Davidson Tuesday night. Then, it’s back to Durham as Northwestern will come to the DBAP for an ACC-Big Ten matchup in a three-game weekend series.

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