It was a historic weekend for the Blue Devils, but not in the positive sense of the phrase.
After Duke and North Carolina split the first two games of their series this past weekend in Chapel Hill, the Tar Heels demolished the Blue Devils 21-8 Monday night. The 21 runs marked the most scored against Duke in a single game since April 14, 2012, three months before the team hired Chris Pollard as its head coach.
“It’s pretty glaring that we’ve got to get better in every phase. We have to be better defensively. We had some significant lapses defensively over the course of the last two days,” Pollard said. “Obviously you look and you say 33 runs [allowed throughout the series], we’ve got to get better on the mound. And certainly if we’re gonna defend and pitch like we pitched these last two ball games we better score some more runs as well.”
On the pitching side, the trend as of late has all signs pointing in the wrong direction for the Blue Devils (13-15, 6-12 in the ACC). Even disregarding Monday's disaster, redshirt sophomore Jimmy Loper gave up four earned runs without recording an out in the eighth inning Sunday that blew that game open. A week earlier, he surrendered four earned runs in the series finale at Miami in just an inning of work.
But Loper isn't the only one struggling for Duke.
Five different Blue Devil pitchers gave up at least two earned runs in Monday’s game, a contest in which Loper didn't even see the mound. Furthermore, a number of defensive mishaps, namely errors by first baseman Chad Knight and third baseman Erikson Nichols, played a large role in Sunday’s loss.
"Disappointed," Pollard said of the series as a whole. "When you win the opening game of the series, put yourself in a position to win the series and we're 5-5 in the eighth [Sunday] with a chance to put the series away, and really from that point forward in a lot of ways we let the wheels come off. And obviously we've got a lot of work to do. And I've got a lot of work to do.”
One aspect of that upcoming work will be ensuring Duke’s upcoming opponents cannot have the same offensive success that the Tar Heels had throughout the weekend.
North Carolina (17-13, 11-10) homered five times Monday, with first baseman Brent Centracchio even hitting two of those home runs in the same inning, and ended the game with 16 total hits. The Tar Heel offense was on full display all weekend, and in the times it shined brightest it exposed a recently-discovered but increasingly-alarming trend for the Blue Devils: the big inning.
Duke’s last four losses have all come in games in which its opponent has managed to score four or more runs in a single inning, and it's extremely taxing on a team's hitters when they are called upon to dig out of holes on a frequent basis.
That’s not to at all say the Blue Devil hitters were flawless in their weekend performance, either. While four, five and eight runs in Games 1, 2 and 3, respectively, is a solid number, the offense struggled to shoot the gaps with only six extra-base hits in the second and third games combined.
As for where Duke sits in relation to the rest of college baseball at this point, it’s safe to say it has not met preseason expectations, but the rest is still unclear. The Blue Devils were a No. 3 seed on Baseball America’s March 31 Field of 64 but were not listed on D1baseball’s April 7 Field of 64. Duke still has a chance at the postseason, but not without a dramatic improvement in performance.
“I think we've got to think one day at a time," Pollard said. "That's all we have to worry about right now is trying to figure out what we can learn from this and quickly regroup and get ready to play [Tuesday night against Campbell].”
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Jake Piazza is a Trinity junior and sports editor of The Chronicle's 117th volume.