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Louisville hands Duke baseball first series sweep since 2016

<p>Erikson Nichols had two hits and also started a critical double play at second base in Sunday's series finale.</p>

Erikson Nichols had two hits and also started a critical double play at second base in Sunday's series finale.

Down to its last two outs of the series and trailing by four runs, Duke needed a miraculous comeback to prevent Louisville from securing its third victory of the weekend.

For a time, the Blue Devils’ rally caps worked—Erikson Nichols punched a single through the left side, followed by a double from Chase Cheek to the right-center gap. After a called strike three on Ethan Murray, No. 24 Duke had just one out remaining to pull off the improbable win. 

In just his fifth career at-bat, Matt Stinebiser laced a pinch-hit, two-run single up the middle to plate Nichols and Cheek, bringing sophomore slugger Chris Crabtree to the plate as the tying run.

But Crabtree unceremoniously flew out to left field, and the 13th-ranked Cardinals secured a third victory 8-6 at the Durham Bulls Athletic Park Sunday afternoon. The series marked the first time Duke was swept since 2016.

“When you play in [the ACC], you run up against teams like [Louisville]—a team that could very much be in Omaha at the end of the year—and you’re going to have some bad weekends,” Blue Devil head coach Chris Pollard said. “This is the first time we’ve been swept in a long, long time, but it happens, and we just need to get right back on the horse.”

Jake Snider led things off Sunday for the Cardinals with a double, and Blue Devil starter Bill Chillari sailed a pickoff throw into center field, allowing Snider to score via groundout on the next pitch.

The Blue Devils (12-8, 2-4 ACC) responded quickly, thanks to a series of Louisville miscues. After Bryan Hoeing plunked him, Kennie Taylor picked up Duke’s first run by advancing on an error, passed ball and wild pitch. A few batters later, Nichols roped a base hit over the second baseman’s head to make it 2-1, and Cheek pushed the next pitch through the right side to extend the Blue Devils’ lead to 3-1.

A sequence of dazzling plays with the glove kept Duke ahead of the Cardinals (16-4, 5-1 ACC) in the top of the third inning. With runners on first and second and no outs, Taylor dove and caught a liner off the bat of Logan Wyatt. Just two batters later, Nichols, who was at second base due to Joey Loperfido’s wrist injury, started a 4-6-3 double play, and the Blue Devils escaped the frame with their 3-1 lead intact.

“We’ve been in a tough spot with our infield, having to play some guys out of position,” Pollard said. “Erikson hasn’t had any time at second base here at Duke, and probably hasn’t had any since the ninth grade. You’re talking about a guy that has had very little time at that position, but was pressed into doing it because of injury and made a really nice play.”

The Duke lead proved to be fleeting, and a pair of Louisville home runs over the left-field fence tied the game at 4 in the sixth inning. The Cardinals ultimately secured the lead in the seventh inning, plating four to make the score 8-4.

On Friday night, Blue Devil ace Graeme Stinson had a rare poor performance, picking up the loss in the 8-3 Louisville victory. The 6-foot-5 southpaw has yielded 10 earned runs in his last two starts, a far cry from his two scoreless outings to open the season.

“He was two pitches away from throwing two shutout innings on Friday,” Pollard said. “So he’s really close to where he needs to be, but there are also some things mechanically that we’re working on to get him back to where he needs to be.”

Duke will have the opportunity to bounce back from the sweep on Wednesday when it hosts Campbell before continuing the homestand with a weekend series against Wake Forest.


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