Last season, Duke came within one game of the College World Series. Its only obstacle? Texas Tech.
Now, the Blue Devils get their rematch with those same Red Raiders as Texas Tech comes to town Tuesday for a 6 p.m. matchup at the Durham Bulls Athletic Park. These two programs will face off for the first time since the Red Raiders won a winner-take-all third game of last June’s super regional final, sending Duke back to North Carolina and Texas Tech on to Omaha.
With six victories in their past seven contests—including series wins against Pittsburgh and Virginia Tech—the momentum will be on the Blue Devils’ side heading into their chance at redemption. But with Duke in the midst of a tough ACC schedule, head coach Chris Pollard’s squad has not had much opportunity to prepare for its revenge opportunity against the Red Raiders—a good test of what postseason conditions may be like just a couple months down the road.
“We have not,” Pollard said Sunday regarding how his team has prepared for Texas Tech. “To be candid with you, all of our focus has been on Virginia Tech. We will start the preparation for Texas Tech [Monday].”
The Red Raiders may boast the most daunting lineup Duke has seen all year, as it ranks 10th in the country in runs per game and includes five players with an OPS above .900. The offense is spearheaded by the team’s three studs—sophomore Dylan Neuse, senior Cameron Warren and junior Brian Klein, who are slashing .336/.477/.595, .325/.405/.610 and .363/.469/.460, respectively.
Last summer, the only Duke pitcher who seemed comfortable handling that frightening offense was Graeme Stinson, who shut down Texas Tech to send the series to a decisive third game. But with the junior southpaw still sidelined, Pollard will send another junior lefty out to face the Red Raiders Tuesday evening: Adam Laskey.
Laskey, who battled shoulder injuries to start the year, will be making just his second start of the season. The Barrington, N.J., native is still trying to find his groove after allowing three runs in two innings during his first start last Tuesday and holding a 12.60 ERA in five total innings this year.
But to slow down an offense like Texas Tech, Pollard plans to switch things up on the mound relatively often. With a bullpen that was as dominant as it was this past weekend against Virginia Tech, the Blue Devils have no reason not to.
“We will pitch a lot of different guys,” Pollard said. “We will kind of whole-staff it and try to give them a lot of different looks. And we know they are very good offensively so we will have to execute at a high level.”
The Red Raiders, meanwhile, will send sophomore righty Bryce Bonnin to try and shut down a Duke offense that sits just tied for 87th in the nation in runs per game. Bonnin holds a 5.48 ERA on the season and gave up five runs in five innings against New Mexico his last start.
One man that has been scorching hot as of late for the Blue Devils is second baseman Joey Loperfido. After also missing a large chunk of the year due to injury, the sophomore lead-off man has posted multi-hit games in five of Duke’s past six contests and is hitting .312 in 10 games this season.
In order to get past Texas Tech, the Blue Devils will need a real team effort through the lineup Tuesday and continue to prioritize getting deep in the count.
Get Overtime, all Duke athletics
Signup for our editorially curated, weekly newsletter. Cancel at any time.
“Like we always do going into a game, we want to try and push the pitch count on the starter,” Pollard said. “We want to get their starter out of the ball game and want to try to get into their bullpen.”
Following its contest with the Red Raiders, Duke will resume its ACC slate at Clemson for a three-game set, with the action beginning Friday.