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Duke baseball takes two in Sunday doubleheader to snag series victory at Virginia

<p>Chris Crabtree's strong hitting helped keep the Blue Devils afloat against Virginia.</p>

Chris Crabtree's strong hitting helped keep the Blue Devils afloat against Virginia.

Shortstop Ethan Murray waded back into shallow left center, drifting right under what looked to be the final out of Sunday's second game.

As the ball came down, it landed in Murray's glove and popped out. It hit the brim of his cap, his face, his chest, and then somehow, wound up in Murray's bare right hand. The freshman hit the ground and tumbled, but bounced right up onto his knees, grinning from ear to ear.

Although the umps would give it a quick look on replay, the ballgame and the series were over.

No. 22 Duke opened conference play with a series victory at Virginia, taking both halves of a Sunday doubleheader to right the ship after a three-game losing skid that began earlier in the week. The Blue Devils were throttled in their series opener, losing 11-3 at Davenport Field at Disharoon Park in Charlottesville, Va., but responded with a 2-1 win in Sunday's first matchup before hanging on for an 8-6 victory in the weekend's finale.

Sophomore Chris Crabtree, the hero of last season's postseason run, began to break out of his early-season slump, going 5-for-11 at the plate in the three games with three runs and three RBIs—including a solo shot on the very first pitch of Sunday's second game, which gave Duke a lead it would never relinquish.

"We made a decision [Sunday] to insert him at the top of the lineup and it was because he'd been doing such a good job of getting on base," head coach Chris Pollard said. "We wanted to give ourselves the best opportunity to have somebody on base when Kennie Taylor came to the plate, and as it turned out, it was the spark that Crabtree needed."

The Blue Devil first baseman didn't take long to get going in Sunday's opener, either. Crabtree poked a double into left center on the third pitch of the day, but was thrown out at the plate on Taylor's single. That, however, helped Duke get on the board—two more singles loaded the bases before Erikson Nichols brought a run home on a sacrifice fly.

Crabtree added a sac fly of his own in the top of the second, putting the visitors up 2-0. But after the Cavaliers cut the Blue Devil lead in half in the fourth, neither team really threatened until the bottom of the ninth. 

Virginia put men on first and second to bring up the heart of its order before Duke's Hunter Davis induced a pair of fly outs to left field, locking down his first career save as a Blue Devil.

"We grew a lot from this past week," Pollard said. "When you have to fight through some adversity, you gain resilience, which makes you better in the long run. I'm very pleased with the way things finished up today."

Following Crabtree's blast to open up Game 2, Duke piled it on with the long ball. Junior Matt Mervis smacked a two-run shot to make it 3-0 in the fourth, and the two teams traded runs in the fifth.

The Blue Devils then delivered the day's big blow, loading the bases with singles by Crabtree and Taylor before Michael Rothenberg was hit by a pitch. That set up freshman designated hitter Rudy Maxwell, who blasted a no-doubt grand slam to left, breaking things wide open.

Virginia would answer with four of its own in the home half of the seventh and another run in the eighth, but sophomore Thomas Girard shut the door, only surrendering one baserunner in the final frame while getting the necessary three outs to hold on for the series win.

The weekend didn't begin nearly as well as it ended. Junior Graeme Stinson took an ugly first loss of the season, surrendering six runs in 3 2/3 innings of work, and things didn't improve when Matt Dockman took over—the Cavaliers opened up a 9-2 lead by the end of the fifth, and Duke could never climb out of its early hole.

"Graeme had gone out through his first three starts of this season and dominated," Pollard said. "He didn't this weekend. He can take a step back and reflect on what he did well and what he didn't. He still struck out five guys, so he was obviously producing a lot of swings and misses."

Stinson's younger brother, Cooper, did not make his usual start Sunday, but Pollard said the plan is to start the freshman Tuesday when No. 14 East Carolina visits the Blue Devils at the Durham Bulls Athletic Park Tuesday afternoon.

Duke got rocked by the Pirates in the teams' lone matchup last season, a 9-2 East Carolina win at Jack Coombs Field as the visitors scored five in the middle three frames and added four in the ninth to shut the door on a Blue Devil comeback bid.

"Honestly, we try to prepare the same for everybody," Pollard said. "We really won't deviate in terms of how we put together a scouting report.... We've got to get to tomorrow, see who feels good and who doesn't to know who we've got available to pitch."

Mitchell Gladstone | Sports Managing Editor

Twitter: @mpgladstone13

A junior from just outside Philadelphia, Mitchell is probably reminding you how the Eagles won the Super Bowl this year and that the Phillies are definitely on the rebound. Outside of The Chronicle, he majors in Economics, minors in Statistics and is working toward the PJMS certificate, in addition to playing trombone in the Duke University Marching Band. And if you're getting him a sandwich with beef and cheese outside the state of Pennsylvania, you best not call it a "Philly cheesesteak." 


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