After two seasons of making it to the super regionals but no further, the Blue Devils are making Omaha their mission this spring.
The first stop on that journey will be this weekend, as No. 15 Duke will kick off its season Friday at 4 p.m. against Army at the Durham Bulls Athletic Park. The three-game series should be a good litmus test for how the team has used its winter months, with 28 members of last year’s squad returning for another shot at the College World Series.
And though the Blue Devils recognize that past success is not always a good metric for future performance, their sights remain high. After standing maybe one or two good innings away from the Mecca of college baseball, it is clear that Omaha is still on the mind of the team.
“We’ll try like heck to build the type of resume over the course of this regular season that puts us in that conversation,” head coach Chris Pollard said. “If you get in [to the College World Series], you’ve got a chance.”
The Blue Devils will start workshopping that resume against an Army team that bowed out of the 2019 Lubbock regional after just two contests, subsequently losing a good deal of firepower to graduation. The Black Knights walk into Durham Friday lacking Tyler Giovinco, Daniel Burggraaf, and Sam Messina, three players who combined for a majority of starts for Army last season, accounting for almost half of the team’s innings on the rubber.
This does not mean that the Black Knights are necessarily in trouble against the Blue Devils, with the likes of Jacob Hurtubise, who batted an eye-opening .375 last season, and Anthony Giachin, who earned All-Patriot League honors last season. This team is not without weapons, but Duke is prepared to counter that.
“In my three years here, this is the deepest bullpen, the most potential starters that we have had,” said junior catcher Michael Rothenberg. “The list goes on and on and on about guys who would really give us quality innings.”
While Duke may miss Graeme Stinson and Ben Gross on the hill, pitching is still one of the strengths of this Blue Devil squad. Preseason All-Americans Bryce Jarvis and Thomas Girard are back for their senior seasons, with Girard recording a team-high 28 appearances in relief last season and Jarvis piloting the postseason push. The two juniors will work in tandem to give Duke a series win this weekend against the Black Knight sluggers.
The Blue Devils will hope to bring some love to the win column on Valentine’s Day, also giving Duke an opportunity to find an identity and start charting a path toward their eventual goal. And though there may be high expectations for this team, they still appear to be grounded in the present.
“Our mantra, and our approach, and our culture is set up such so that we really focus on getting better today,” said Pollard.
The Blue Devils will have a chance to prove it three successive times this weekend, starting at 4 p.m. in downtown Durham Friday before playing 1 p.m. contests Saturday and Sunday.
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