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Duke baseball downs William & Mary behind dominant pitching

Michael Rothenberg drove in three runs Tuesday.
Michael Rothenberg drove in three runs Tuesday.

Pace of play may be a source of concern for many baseball fans, but on nights when pitchers are as efficient as Duke’s staff was Tuesday night, even the most anxious fans worries are put to rest. 

No. 17 Duke breezed by William & Mary 5-0 Tuesday evening at the Durham Bulls Athletic Park in a brisk 2.5-hour game, extending the Blue Devils’ winning streak to three. Senior Bill Chillari started the night on the hill for Duke and impressed through three scoreless innings before handing the ball to Eli Herrick, the first new arm in a succession of four relievers, as the Blue Devils pitched by committee in a brilliant manner, holding the Tribe to just four hits and no runs.

“[I’m] so proud of Bill Chillari. What a great competitor, what a selfless teammate,” said head coach Chris Pollard. “Last week I brought Bill in the office and told him he wouldn’t be starting this past weekend. It was a tough conversation because he’s been an incredible asset for us over the last four years. I said you’re going to play a big role for us I just can’t tell you when yet. 

“The way everything shook out for us this past weekend that put him in a situation where he needed to start for us today, and he’s just always ready to take the ball. He’s been ready to take the ball every time we’ve asked him to and he pitched great today.”

Chillari made his first appearance for the Blue Devils (3-1) since starting Game 3 of Duke's super regional loss to Vanderbilt last season. The southpaw has struggled in the past with his command, but finished with a clean slate Tuesday evening, recording no walks while striking out a pair of Tribe batters. 

He was relieved in the fourth inning by Herrick, who worked through five efficient outs without giving up a baserunner, before being lifted with two outs in the fifth inning. Herrick matched Chillari with two strikeouts of his own, only throwing fifteen pitches in his 1 2/3 innings of work. 

Matt Dockman came into the game to close out the fifth, inducing a flyout to begin the sixth before walking the next batter he faced. Prior to that walk, the trio of Duke pitchers had retired 16 straight batters. 

William & Mary (0-4) struggled at the plate all night, managing only four singles while striking out ten times.

“I think we’re throwing really well. Even the two walks we [gave up], we were trying to execute 3-2 breaking balls. We’ve got guys really comfortable throwing any pitch in any count, and it keeps guys off balance, gets a bad swing,” Pollard said. “We’re doing a good job getting ahead and that’s putting us in a position to get a lot of soft contact.”

The Blue Devils jumped out to a quick 2-0 lead in the first inning as the heart of their order continued its torrid start to the season. Joey Loperfido led off the game with a single and then swiped second base. Two batters later, Michael Rothenberg launched a ball 105 miles per hour off his bat to deep centerfield for a double to score Loperfido and give Duke an early lead. Matt Mervis followed that up with a single through the right side to keep the line moving and drive in Rothenberg, giving the Blue Devils a 2-0 lead after the first inning. 

In the fifth inning, Rothenberg came to the plate looking to do damage again with runners on second and third and no outs. He hit a nearly identical blast that sent William & Mary centerfielder Joe Delossantos all the way to the wall where he leapt up and made a fantastic catch, crashing into the padding to rob Duke of another extra base hit. Nevertheless, as Delossantos struggled to recover and get the ball in, the two baserunners were able to tag up and score and push the Blue Devils’ lead to five. 

“We’re getting in good counts. Friday night versus Army we expanded our zone a little bit, tried to hit too big a zone. What you see now is us laying off some marginal pitches and getting in better counts and getting in fastball counts,” Pollard said. “We’re ready and we’re on time putting good swings on pitches in fastball counts. And we’ve got some strong guys who are able to do some damage in those counts.”

Duke will be back in action at the DBAP this weekend against Cornell, where the Blue Devils hope Rothenberg, Loperfido, Mervis and the rest of the lineup can continue their hot start against a veteran Big Red staff highlighted by senior righthander John Natoli. 

“We’re going to see a really good arm on Friday night, maybe the best arm we’ve seen all year in John Natoli, a really complete pitcher,” Pollard said. “They’ve got almost their complete pitching staff back from last year, and they’re very well-coached, so we’ve got our hands full this weekend.”

Editor's Note: A previous version of this story said that Bill Chillari had not pitched since Duke’s 2019 regional final, but Chillari also appeared in the Blue Devils’ super regional against Vanderbilt. The Chronicle regrets the error.

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