On Sunday against Clemson, left fielder Kyle Gallagher was the hero in the field—robbing a game-tying home run with a leap that millions saw the next day on SportsCenter’s top 10 plays.
But on Tuesday, it was Gallagher’s bat that provided the fireworks. With one on and two out in the bottom of the first, the Endwell, N.Y., native smacked a two-run shot to center to give Duke the lead. And from there, the Blue Devils never looked back.
Duke defeated N.C. Central 6-2 Tuesday evening at the Durham Bulls Athletic Park, powered by a near flawless start from junior Adam Laskey. In just his third start of the year, the southpaw tossed four innings of no-hit ball for his first win of the season, walking three and striking out three in the process. The Blue Devils never trailed, and have now won 11 of their past 12 games.
“I’m proud of [Laskey],” head coach Chris Pollard told GoDuke.com. “I think each time out he continues to take the next step forward. You saw it today—he pitched exclusively in the stretch, which I think was a savvy move to try and make some adjustments and get some feel back. I think he did that. The thing I liked [was that] there were still some misses there, but when he had to execute, he was able to get back in, which is a sign for me that he’s getting closer and closer to being where he wants to be.”
Meanwhile, Duke’s offense scored in five different innings across the ball game. Gallagher was joined by Ethan Murray and Michael Rothenberg in the home run department, while Erikson Nichols posted a multi-hit effort and Joey Loperfido added two runs.
“We hit a lot of balls on the nose,” Pollard told GoDuke.com. “[Gallagher] runs a ball out of the yard. I thought it was a great at-bat by Rothenberg late. Ethan Murray had really good at-bats again today, so a lot of good things. I thought we played a very complete game. We were good defensively, we were good on the mound and we put a lot of good swings on the baseball.”
Eagles starter Chris Kernen lasted just that first inning before N.C. Central went to its bullpen, but the Blue Devils (25-16) kept on scoring anyway, with a fielder’s choice in the second and Murray’s dinger in the fourth gifting Duke a commanding 4-0 edge.
The fifth inning, however, finally saw the visiting team get something going on the offensive end. After Eli Herrick struck out the first two batters he faced, Trey Maslin laced a single to right field. Up next came the biggest bat in the Eagles’ order—Corey Joyce. The 6-foot-1 junior showed the Durham crowd why he was voted the MEAC Preseason Player of the Year, cutting the Blue Devils’ lead in half with a two-run bomb to left. Carter Williams followed up the home run with a double of his own, but a Vinny Bailey groundout prevented any further damage.
Perhaps jealous of Gallagher's glove receiving all the attention, Chris Crabtree added a web gem of his own in the seventh inning, diving over the dugout railing to catch a popup from Joyce. Crabtree's grab was featured on Wednesday morning's SportsCenter as a top play.
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N.C. Central (18-21) had the tying runner on base in both the sixth and seventh innings, but each time Duke was able to pitch out of a jam. The sixth inning saw Herrick hit two Eagles batters before striking out Josh Brammell to end the frame, while Aaron Beasley issued a single and a walk in the seventh before getting Myles Coston to go down swinging.
In the meantime, Duke’s offense added two insurance runs in the seventh and eighth via an error and a Rothenberg homer. Bryce Jarvis would put down the Eagles in order in the eighth before Thomas Girard shut the door in the ninth.
“I was happy about that,” Pollard told GoDuke.com. “Didn’t necessarily intend for Girard to get work unless the situation called for it. We definitely wanted Bryce [Jarvis] to get work. I liked the fact that he was very efficient. I felt like with where the game was it was the right decision to go to Thomas [Girard]. He didn’t waste any pitches, he went right at guys so he kept his pitch count low, [and he'll] have two days off and be ready to go on Friday.”
Next, Duke heads northeast to Chestnut Hill, Mass. for a three-game set at Boston College. With just under a month left in the regular season, the Blue Devils are looking like one of the hottest teams in the country right now, and a team that could prove to be scary come NCAA tournament time.