2019’s stars dominated, the freshmen shone brightly and the Blue Devils head into the winter showing no reason to doubt their upcoming season.
All the talent that brought Duke baseball a single win away from the 2019 College World Series was on display last weekend. The Blue Devils wrapped up their fall season with their annual Fall World Series, an intersquad three-game series. One of the Duke squads technically won—associate head coach Josh Jordan’s team took two games and outscored assistant coach Jason Stein’s 15-to-7—but the individual performances on both were what defined the games.
What stood out the most across the series?
The upperclassmen haven’t lost a beat
Duke will be counting on star upperclassmen like sophomore shortstop Ethan Murray, juniors Joey Loperfido and Michael Rothenberg and two-way contributor Matt Mervis in 2020, all of whom were playing as if they hadn’t taken four months off.
They combined for 10 RBIs across the series, including a sequence in the third game in which Mervis hit a two-run double in the bottom of the fourth inning, pitched a scoreless top of the fifth, came up again in the fifth and walloped a home run, then pitched another scoreless frame.
The pitchers were a mixed bag
With the 2019 Blue Devils finishing fifth in the ACC in ERA, but just tenth in runs scored, you’d expect these three games might’ve been low-scoring environments. Instead, 22 runs were scored.
Veterans Bill Chillari and Jack Carey each had mixed performances, with solid innings interlaced with frames allowing multiple runs. Clark Klitenic had himself a disastrous third game. Inheriting two runners from Carey, three runs scored with Klitenic on the mound, part of a disastrous strikeout-wild pitch, throwing error, bases-loaded hit-by-pitch and bases-loaded walk sequence.
For as shaky as they looked, though, there were at least as many bright spots. Starters Eli Herrick, Aaron Beasley, Jimmy Loper and Henry Williams combined for over a dozen scoreless innings, limiting baserunners and rarely running into trouble. Between them and closer Thomas Girard—who comfortably closed out both of the Jordan-led team’s wins—Duke has good reason to expect more great pitching come springtime.
The freshmen are ready to contribute
Between true first-years and the handful of redshirt freshmen on their roster, the Blue Devils are stocked with talent for years to come. Fortunately for them, that talent might not take too long to start producing.
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Seven freshmen (true or redshirt) were in the starting lineup for each game in the series. And despite a trio of top-300 prospects, it was the less-heralded recruits who shone brightest. Jake Topolski had the game-winning RBI in game one, Britt Fuller, Chad Knight and Jake Swartz all crushed pivotal extra-base hits, and Loper and Williams pitched excellent starts. If the highly-touted guys can live up to their billing, this Duke team has a chance to build on the success of recent Blue Devil teams.
Loperfido can really play anywhere
Loperfido appears to be playing a new position for the third straight year. He joined the Blue Devils as a third baseman, made 63 starts at first base his freshman year and played 39 games as the team’s primary second baseman last year.
For the Fall World Series, Loperfido made three starts…in centerfield.
Now, Loperfido’s time in center was most likely due to the absence of 2019 centerfielder Chase Cheek from the series. But just knowing Loperfido can hang out there is valuable. A good defender shouldn’t normally be pushed to first base, like he was in his freshman season. But he’s come along since then, and with the graduation of Kennie Taylor, someone has to fill in in the outfield. Loperfido’s versatility doesn’t just make him the greatest beneficiary of the 61 games started that Taylor leaves behind, it also makes it easier for him to move around the field and stay in the lineup when other regulars need rest.