What was once a season full of optimism now begs for answers.
Duke squared off with No. 20 Miami in Coral Gables, Fla., over the weekend, falling in each of the three games. The series had the Blue Devils battered by the strongest winds the Hurricanes could bring. Although Duke narrowly fell 3-1 Friday night, Saturday and Sunday brought squalls of hits and poor defense behind the visiting team's pitchers.
“It's my job to have us better prepared, so that we can be a better version of ourselves and play better baseball,” head coach Chris Pollard said. “We're nowhere near playing at the level that we're capable of.”
Sophomore pitcher Henry Williams particularly struggled, allowing eight Miami runs before getting pulled in the second inning Saturday night. Williams, coming fresh off a sharp seven innings in a loss against Georgia Tech last weekend, had been an exemplar of consistency for Duke’s pitching staff. However, this time around at Alex Rodriguez Park was a different story for the Connecticut native.
The Hurricanes went 10-for-10 on balls put in play—not including an error by the Blue Devil infield—with Williams on the bump, and a parade of 19 total singles for Miami throughout the evening led to an 11-5 drubbing. Williams recorded all of his outs over his 1.2 innings via strikeout.
“He had some bad luck—we should have made a couple of plays behind [Williams],” Pollard said. “If we do we probably get off the field, with no run scoring in either the first or the second inning...we extended innings for them, and they took advantage of it.”
Defensively, the Blue Devils (11-13, 5-10 in the ACC) did nothing to help get pitchers out of jams and keep themselves in the game—errors contributed to four unearned runs in Saturday’s loss. Pollard said he was concerned about his defense, which also had several misplays that did not count as errors leading to Miami’s four-run eighth inning Sunday. The late barrage of avoidable baserunners propelled the Hurricanes (16-8, 10-7) to a 7-1 win to cap off the series.
Despite a tremendous nine-run series finale against Georgia Tech a week ago, the Blue Devil bats went cold in South Florida, as Duke’s offense only managed to hit .181 over the three games this past weekend.
“I think Miami has good arms," Pollard said. "I think their arms pitched well this weekend, and we're better than we swung the bat this weekend, and we got to find out why we're in an offensive lull right now."
The only offensive spark of the series came courtesy of senior outfielder Joey Loperfido, who crushed a fifth-inning grand slam to cut into Miami’s 9-0 lead Saturday. Duke had a similar bases loaded situation while trailing 3-1 in the sixth inning Sunday, but redshirt junior second baseman Wil Hoyle struck out to end the scoring threat.
“We have good players in our lineup, and we just gotta keep sending those guys to the plate and staying aggressive in our mentality and hit our way through it,” Pollard added.
Duke has now lost five of its last seven games, with this past weekend's series marking the first time the team has suffered a sweep since March 2019. Multiple series earlier this year, notably those against No. 12 Notre Dame and No. 15 Georgia Tech, showed that the Blue Devils have the skill to hang with top teams in the conference. However there is considerable work left to do for Duke to improve to where it was projected in the standings before the season. Sitting last in the ACC’s Coastal Division has Pollard anticipating a rebound during the second half of the year.
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“I'm disappointed. And I'm frustrated. We're a better team than this. And I've got to do a better job of having our team ready to play,” Pollard said. “I told [the team] very simply that we've reached roughly the halfway point of the year but we haven't played our best baseball yet. Typically speaking and historically speaking, our baseball teams have played their best baseball over the second half of the season.”
Duke hosts N.C. Central in a crosstown battle Tuesday before heading down Tobacco Road to face North Carolina in a three-game series starting Friday.