A group of freshmen carried the Blue Devils Tuesday as they used a five-run first inning to dispatch East Carolina for their third straight win.

No. 24 Duke followed up its doubleheader sweep at Virginia Sunday with a 7-2 victory against the 14th-ranked Pirates at the Durham Bulls Athletic Park. Freshman left fielder R.J. Schreck delivered the big hit deep into the right-center field gap to break the game open in the first inning and also made a key diving catch to stifle a rally in the fourth inning. First-year pitchers Cooper Stinson and Kyle Salley took care of the rest for the first six innings.

"When we do a simulated game in our midweek practice setting and it’s for guys that aren’t getting a lot of reps, that’s a really important time, and two guys that have taken advantage of that the best are Kyle Salley and R.J. Schreck," head coach Chris Pollard said. "[Salley] climbed the depth chart because of that and now he’s in the regular rotation for us out of the pen. Same thing with R.J—R.J. really climbed the depth chart a lot because of the job that he did in some of those midweek sim games."

The Blue Devils (12-5) jumped all over 6-foot-6 East Carolina starter Gavin Williams, with all nine hitters in Duke's lineup coming to the plate in the first inning. Kennie Taylor, Michael Rothenberg, Rudy Maxwell and Erikson Nichola all reached base in succession to push the first run across, and junior Matt Mervis then beat out a potential inning-ending double-play ball to keep the rally going.

"Sometimes over the course of a game, you forget about those things, but that could be a rally that never happened if you don’t beat that ball out," Pollard said. "That’s why you always play the game hard."

After freshman Ethan Murray sliced a hard-hit grounder into right field for a single to put Duke in front 3-0, Schreck cleared the bases for two more runs. Schreck has earned the first three starts of his career in the Blue Devils' last three games, all wins, and the double was his first extra-base hit.

Pirate reliever Jake Kuchmaner entered the game in the second inning and shut Duke down for 5 2/3 innings, allowing just one hit, but the damage was already done.

Stinson, the younger brother of Blue Devil ace Graeme Stinson, dealt with some misfortune in the third frame as East Carolina (12-6) scored its first run with the help of a softly-hit infield single and an error on a potential double play, but the luck evened out in the fifth inning.

Stinson hit the leadoff man and then walked a batter on five pitches to put two runners on, and he fell into a 3-0 hole in the count facing dangerous senior Turner Brown with nobody out. But after a pair of strikes, Brown hit a line drive straight at second baseman Nichols that turned into a double play, with Bryant Packard doubled off first base.

Although Stinson struggled with his command, throwing just 42 of 80 pitches for strikes, walking four batters and hitting two more, he was hard to hit when he was in the zone and surrendered only two singles.

"The interesting thing is that it comes in spurts a little bit, and that’s youth, because he’ll have long stretches where the command’s really good," Pollard said. "A lot of that’s just a really big guy learning how to repeat his delivery over and over. I think every time out, he’s taken a big step forward. This is a team in East Carolina that can create a lot of matchup problems because they can really stack their lineup with left-handed hitters, but he did a good job of navigating that today. He couldn’t have done that four weeks ago."  

Salley inherited two baserunners when he relieved Stinson in the fifth and allowed one to score after allowing a single on his first pitch, but recovered to retire the next four batters he faced to get through the sixth inning. Hunter Davis and Thomas Girard took care of the last nine outs while Duke tacked on insurance runs in the seventh and eighth innings with RBI singles from Rudy Maxwell and Kyle Gallagher.

The Blue Devils will continue a daunting week at the DBAP with a three-game series against No. 13 Louisville from Friday to Sunday.