Despite coming off of back-to-back NCAA super regional appearances, this season's Duke team very well could be the best iteration of the Blue Devils in the last three years.
No. 12 Duke kicked off conference play in style with back-to-back wins en route to a series victory against No. 11 Florida State at the Durham Bulls Athletic Park. The Blue Devils held the Seminoles to just four runs across a pair of wins Friday and Saturday before Florida State broke through the floodgates Sunday with 10 runs to avoid a series sweep.
"Two really good baseball teams played at a high level. I thought it was really good ACC baseball," head coach Chris Pollard said. "We pitched great, I thought that the first two days we did a really good job with some clutch two-out hitting and I thought our defense was really solid the whole weekend."
Bryce Jarvis set the tone for Duke with another stellar outing in his first home start since completing the first perfect game in program history.
Jarvis shut down the Seminoles Friday with seven scoreless innings of one-hit ball. Catcher Michael Rothenberg put the Blue Devils on the board with a first-inning single, which would be enough insurance for Duke's ace. The Franklin, Tenn., native added 12 strikeouts as the Blue Devils took control of the series with a 2-1 victory.
"I’m running out of superlatives for Bryce Jarvis, he’s just been so good," Pollard said. "He had three pitches working, was really attacking the zone, his velocity was as good it has been all year and I thought he was really, really electric."
Saturday, it was Rothenberg who ignited Duke's offense. Rothenberg has been the most dominant Blue Devil at the plate this season, leading the team in batting average, on-base percentage and RBIs entering the series.
The Boca Raton, Fla., native did not disappoint. His two-run single in the third inning highlighted a three-run frame for the Blue Devils (12-3, 2-1 in the ACC) who, once again, rode strong pitching to another key victory Saturday. Cooper Stinson silenced the Florida State offense with five innings of one-run ball and Thomas Girard notched his second save of the weekend for Duke.
"Cutting down on strikeouts and putting the ball in play," Pollard claimed are the key differences in Rothenberg's approach this season. "[Saturday's] two-RBI hit to left was just a good job with two strikes to put the ball in play and making something happen. He’s playing at a really high level."
After shutting down the Seminoles (10-5, 1-2) Friday and Saturday, Duke was unable to seal the series sweep Sunday.
Florida State crushed three home runs including a grand slam by Elijah Cabell in the eighth inning, which all but clinched the eventual 10-2 victory for the road team. Sophomore Jack Carey surrendered four runs over five innings for the Blue Devils and Duke's inability to hit the Seminole relievers proved costly.
The Blue Devil offense looked primed for an outburst after forcing Florida State's starter Connor Grady out of the contest in just the third inning. However, seven scoreless relief innings later and Duke found itself settling for the series victory and no sweep. Jack Anderson notched 3 2/3 scoreless frames in relief of Grady as Blue Devil baserunners became rare sightings down the stretch.
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"Their arms are really, really good," Pollard said. "I thought we had a really good offensive approach against Grady, we got him out of there in the third inning. Jack Anderson has good stuff and had really good numbers, but to our credit, I thought we took some good swings against him…we just missed putting a couple crooked numbers on the board."
Following Sunday's defeat, Duke will return to the field Tuesday when it will face off against in-state rival Davidson in Charlotte.