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Duke baseball snags much-needed win against N.C. Central heading into heart of ACC play

Graduate student Erikson Nichols notched two hits and two RBIs in the game.
Graduate student Erikson Nichols notched two hits and two RBIs in the game.

Coming off two straight losses, the Blue Devils needed a strong team performance to gain some momentum going into their midseason stretch. 

On Tuesday afternoon, that’s exactly what they got, taking down N.C. Central 7-4 at the Durham Bulls Athletic Park. After trailing 2-0 following the top half of the second inning, Duke responded immediately with two runs of its own in the bottom half and a five-run third inning that gave the Blue Devils a lead they’d never surrender.

“The key to the ballgame, one of the things that this team has established an identity for—when a team scores, we’re good to have an answer,” head coach Chris Pollard said after the game. “We did that again today.”

Joey Loperfido led off the breakout third inning with a single, and the senior quickly came around and scored on a Michael Rothenberg triple the next at-bat. Two more hits, a walk and a wild pitch brought in four more Duke runs, with the Blue Devils taking a 7-2 lead and never looking back.

Though the initial production in that third inning came from the top of the lineup, the Blue Devils’ scoring was balanced throughout, with batters five through eight driving in five of the team’s seven runs. With that kind of success from the bottom of the order, Duke is a team poised to score at all times.

“This lineup is really tough to pitch to throughout,” Pollard said. “We don’t have to have our one-through-four clicking to still score runs.”

Not only was this victory important for Duke momentum-wise, but it also provided the perfect opportunity for players to gain experience heading into the heart of ACC play. Pollard made sure to use that opportunity to give his bullpen some action.

Eight different Blue Devil pitchers took the mound Tuesday, none of whom pitched even two full innings. Normally, such a variety of pitchers might indicate early struggles and poor play, but Tuesday’s showing demonstrated anything but inconsistency, with Duke shutting out the Eagles over the final six innings.

“We limited the big inning when we had traffic,” Pollard said. “In the second inning, fifth inning, and seventh inning we had a lot of traffic on the bases, but we did a good job [preventing] the big inning.”

Following a rocky start to the season, the Blue Devils needed to have a solid outing across the board Tuesday. And with the burst of offense in the second and third innings and solid pitching throughout, Duke succeeded in getting everyone involved.

However, the high of the victory can only last so long. The Blue Devils travel west this weekend to take on No. 15 Notre Dame in a three-game series. While the recipe for victory panned out against N.C. Central, Duke will need to keep the bats hot and the pitchers hotter if it hopes to continue its momentum in South Bend, Ind.

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