Duke has won only two of its past eight games, including two consecutive series losses after beating Virginia on the road to begin ACC play. But when rivalry week comes, all in the past is forgotten.
The Blue Devils will travel eight miles south to Chapel Hill this weekend for their first three-game set against North Carolina at Boshamer Stadium. After suffering a sweep in their first conference series at Clemson, the Tar Heels rebounded to take two out of three from both Miami and Virginia Tech and currently sport a three-game win streak.
And although North Carolina is Duke’s biggest rival, head coach Chris Pollard said his team’s preparation for the weekend set has been absolutely no different than if the Blue Devils were competing against any other opponent.
“We take the exact same preparation into this weekend we take into every other weekend,” Pollard said. “We do not do anything different...we talk about the fact that all 30 conference games count exactly the same and we try to go into every series with the same type of preparation.”
On the mound, Duke (16-9, 3-6 in the ACC) will have the same three starters it went with in the Wake Forest series—Ben Gross on Friday, Bryce Jarvis on Saturday and Bill Chillari for the finale Sunday. Gross took care of business with five innings of one-run ball against the Demon Deacons a week ago, but Jarvis and Chillari struggled during last weekend’s set en route to lines of six runs in 4.1 innings and three earned runs in 4.2 innings respectively.
Those three guys will be tasked with shutting down a North Carolina lineup that isn’t too overpowered—ranking a mere 68th in the country in scoring—but boasts some starpower at the top of the order in terms of junior middle-infielder Ike Freeman and junior first basemen Michael Busch. Freeman currently sports a .341/.455/.538 line with four home runs, with Busch adding a .294/.483/.529 line and five homers of his own.
“[North Carolina] really relies on the top of their lineup for offensive productivity,” Pollard said. “The key is to get ahead—that is the name of the game in baseball. Get ahead and get the first guy out, keep the lead-off man off base and that really limits what opponents can do.”
In addition, Pollard said his goal this weekend is to have his starters last as deep into the ballgame as possible. Although the Blue Devils’ bullpen was one of the team’s bright spots last weekend against Wake Forest, 16 innings of work in three games will naturally take a toll on any relief core.
“We got to be careful that we do not overextend those guys,” Pollard said. “We ran the risk of that against Wake Forest. The best way to not abuse your relief core is to get good starts so the formula for this weekend is have our starters get into the 6th inning and not have to go to our bullpen early.”
In terms of the opposition, the Tar Heels (19-7, 4-5) are set to roll out Austin Bergner, Tyler Baum and Gianluca Dalatri on the mound for Friday through Sunday. Dalatri has been fantastic this season, boasting a 1.88 ERA in 28.2 innings over five starts. Baum and Bergner have not been as successful regarding letting up runs, but both have the stuff to shut an offense down on any given day.
Following the series against North Carolina, Duke will take on the Durham Bulls in an exhibition game Tuesday before playing at East Carolina Wednesday. The Blue Devils will then take on Pittsburgh for a three-game set next weekend as they continue their ACC slate.
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