Duke can go to the College World Series in Omaha, Neb., but I don’t say that for the reasons most of you are thinking right now.
This Blue Devil squad possesses Omaha potential not because of Bryce Jarvis' 0.90 ERA, Michael Rothenberg's .367 batting average or the team's 68-22 run differential thus far.
It is because this team is built to win on Sundays.
That does not just mean this ball club is capable of stealing the last game in a weekend series, though that is a key component. Being built for Sunday is a mindset that translates into a team being able to play top-tier baseball at any moment. Even in its most recent loss to Iowa, Duke competed every pitch and applied pressure to the Hawkeyes for all nine innings.
For those who are unfamiliar with how college baseball scheduling works, most of the games in the season are played in a three-game series on Friday, Saturday and Sunday against the same opponent each game. And then there are the dreaded mid-week games that are always prime territory for a classic upset story.
Any team in college baseball can win on a Friday or Saturday.
On Friday, you get to take the field behind your big ace and finally play the game you have been waiting for all week, teeming with energy as you are anxious to gain the upperhand in the series.
On Saturday, you are either clawing your way back to even the series or putting your foot on the throttle and trying to secure the series victory. Either way, emotions run high and intensity follows suit.
On Sunday, that sore elbow feels extra tight. The stands are emptier as parents and fans have gone home to prepare for the week ahead. Your assignment that you have been waiting to finish is due the next day.
Sunday is when the elite ballplayers come out.
That is when you can tell if you are dealing with an Omaha-worthy team or not. A team going to the College World Series looks the same from the first pitch on Friday to the final swing on Sunday.
There is no room to dwell on past accomplishments or future tasks in college baseball or you will crash and burn on the road to Omaha before the first mile-marker.
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No magic formula or secret code will guarantee that a team is built for Sunday, and oftentimes, talent-rich teams find their seasons over in May. You could have nine first round draft picks on the diamond, but if they don’t come to play every day, you might as well kiss Omaha goodbye. Every team is talented, but it is what is between the ears of this Duke ball club that tells me it possess Omaha potential.
This Blue Devil team is a gritty and self proclaimed “blue-collar” unit that prides itself on loving the grind. The mantra sounds nice but ultimately means nothing if it is not put into practice. Back on Feb. 24, Duke showed it fully intends on backing its talk, beating Air Force 16-0 a mere day after its final win in a sweep of Cornell, a weekend series in which the Blue Devils only allowed one total run.
It would have been easy for Duke to coast by Air Force, beat them by a few runs and move on to the ACC/Big Ten Challenge. The fact that the Blue Devils opted to not just defeat the Falcons but shut them out and score double digits is a true testament to the mentality that this ball club possesses.
Just under a week before then, Duke hosted William & Mary on a Tuesday and bested its opponents 5-0, scoring two of those runs in the first inning. Instead of coming out flat and eking by, the Blue Devils struck first and fast, throwing up that two spot early and knocking the Tribe out instantaneously.
From a more literal standpoint, there is a lot to like out of Duke's depth. Offensive weapons like RJ Schreck and Chad Knight have shown pop off the bench, and Jack Carey looks to be a promising Sunday arm. Not to mention the Blue Devils' All-American closer in Thomas Girard who, despite blowing his first career save this past weekend, has proven to be a reliable arm to bolster the back half of the bullpen on days in which the starting pitcher fails to go deep.
In the upcoming week, Duke will play a Wednesday game against Campbell and follow that up with a weekend series against Florida State, another perfect opportunity for this team to prove that it is an all gas, no brakes kind of squad that is poised for the College World Series.