As 2019 comes to a close, The Chronicle's sports department takes a look back at the biggest stories of the year in Duke athletics. Each day, we will review a major game, event or storyline that helped shape the course of the year for the Blue Devils.
Coming in at No. 4: Duke baseball surprises everyone en route to an NCAA super regional berth, nearly upsetting eventual-national champion Vanderbilt and securing the program’s first College World Series bid since 1961, if it weren’t for one of the greatest performances in college baseball history.
It didn’t seem like Duke was going to repeat its magical 2018 run, when the team set a program record with 45 wins and finished just a game shy of the College World Series.
The Blue Devils’ 2019 regular season was a roller coaster to say the least, with the team shutting down 2018 hero Graeme Stinson after just five appearances, while various other injuries contributed to a 7-13 March record and serious doubt about whether Duke would even make the NCAA tournament at all.
But a 13-4 April saved the team’s year, allowing the Blue Devils to sneak in as one of the tournament’s final four at-large selections. From there, head coach Chris Pollard emphasized that it was a brand new season, and that any team can come out on top on any given night.
He was right.
Duke shocked the country in the Morgantown, W.Va., regional, reeling off three straight victories to clinch a trip to the Nashville, Tenn. super regional and a meeting with No. 2 Vanderbilt. The highlight of the weekend was the Blue Devils’ second win, a 4-0 blanking of the regional host—No. 15 West Virginia—anchored by an eight-inning, 11-strikeout outing from sophomore righty Bryce Jarvis.
Pollard’s squad next went into a three-game super regional series against Vanderbilt as a heavy underdog, with many expecting an easy two-game sweep for the Commodores. But the Blue Devils made sure they wouldn’t go down without a fight.
A 10-run eighth inning powered Duke to an 18-5 blowout win in Game 1, one of the most impressive victories in program history. Little did the Blue Devils know, however, that their dominant showing would be completely overshadowed within a mere 24 hours.
No hits, 19 strikeouts and only two balls hit into the outfield. That is all Duke’s offense could muster off Vanderbilt true freshman Kumar Rocker, who tied the series at 1-1 with the first no-hitter in an NCAA tournament game since 2012. The powerful righty’s masterpiece was also the first no-hitter by a Commodore in 48 years.
Technically, there was still one game to go, with the Blue Devils trying their best to maintain their “any given night” mentality. But the momentum had been decidedly turned in one team’s favor heading into Game 3.
Vanderbilt leadoff hitter Austin Martin smacked the second pitch he saw into the left field seats, and the Commodores cruised to a 13-2 victory. They would eventually defeat Michigan in the College World Series finale to cap off their second national championship since 2014.
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In the end, the Blue Devils were sent packing for the second consecutive season following a disappointing do-or-die super regional loss. But if these last two years have shown fans anything, it’s that Duke baseball is finally on the map. And it’s here to stay.
READ MORE on Duke baseball’s 2019 NCAA tournament run:
'Building a culture': Duke baseball a proven force under Pollard after 2nd straight super regional run
SUPER STRIKERS: Duke baseball advances to 2nd consecutive super regional thanks to dominant pitching
BLASTIN’ MARTIN: Vanderbilt eliminates Duke baseball in super regional final behind Martin’s 2 home runs
A look at the rest of our top 10 countdown: