Momentum is a fickle mistress.
She may spend six innings claiming non-alignment, only to jump to the two-out, bases-loaded batter and spring open an insurmountable lead.
She may make it apparent which party she’s with from the onset, lifting her company to an early advantage, coasting with them through a lazy afternoon.
Duke took home a series win Sunday against Wake Forest, clinching the rubber match 11-7 after splitting lopsided affairs Friday and Saturday. The Blue Devils outscored the Demon Deacons 22 to 20 across the three-game slate—with all of those runs coming in the last two games of the series. The team received outstanding pitching performances from Luke Fox, Jack Carey and Marcus Johnson, who combined for 21 strikeouts against a .837 WHIP and a .63 ERA in 14.1 innings. From a hitting perspective, Michael Rothenberg, Chris Crabtree and Peter Matt combined for a .481/.500/.889 line with five extra-base hits and nine RBI across Saturday and Sunday to lead the offensive explosion.
“I played for a great coach who was a mentor to me, and he used to always say that momentum is only as good as the next day's starting pitcher,” head coach Chris Pollard said. “We talk a lot in our program about…one pitch battles. And if you really believe in process, if you believe in one-pitch battles, then momentum is not really something that you ever really try to aspire for.
“.... Confidence is fleeting. It comes and goes. What's with you all the time is competitiveness, competitive fight. And so, we want to have outstanding competitive fight. And our guys had that yesterday and today.”
If there was any series designed to dispel the notion of momentum, it was this one. And if there was any game designed to dispel that, it was the Sunday matinée.
Coming off a dominant Saturday win, Duke (16-16, 8-13 in the ACC) turned to the most established healthy starter in its rotation in Cooper Stinson—Henry Williams was held out this weekend with soreness. Stinson blanked Wake Forest (12-17, 6-14) across four innings, while four of the first five Blue Devils reached base, leading to four runs in the opening frame for Duke.
All the momentum in the world should’ve been on Duke’s side.
But Stinson allowed the first five batters to reach in the fifth, three of whom worked three-ball counts, with Pollard pulling him for Josh Allen in order to create a lefty-on-lefty matchup with Bobby Seymour, the former ACC Player of the Year. Allen promptly surrendered a grand slam, which gave Wake Forest a 6-5 lead.
Where did the momentum swing? Was it after the first run, or the second? Was it the moment Allen released the poor pitch, or was it when Seymour made contact?
Regardless, Duke retook the lead a few minutes later on a Matt homer and some sequenced singles, before the Demon Deacons tacked on a tying run in the sixth, in line with the up-and-down nature of the contest.
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The game between Tobacco Road foes remained even under the beating April sun through the seventh. Rothenberg led off the home half with a single, and after a Chase Cheek strikeout, Erikson Nichols came up to the plate. The light-hitting third baseman only needed to drive one into the gap to rally momentum to the Blue Devil side. However, upon receiving a complete cement mixer of a curveball from Camden Minacci, he drove it into the centerfield seats.
Did Nichols command momentum when he identified Minacci’s meatball? Was it when he made his loud contact? Or was it when the Demon Deacon centerfielder ran into the wall, as the gentle breeze carried Nichols’ third career home run out of the park?
“It's awesome to get a series win, it's been a while for us,” Matt said. “I think everyone's doing a great job at the plate and just feeding off each other's success. So just taking it one at-bat at a time and hopefully we just keep it going.”
This is a Duke team that has dispelled the notion of momentum all season, and this weekend, they created their own spark. Despite the talent on the roster, the Blue Devils have found themselves at the bottom of arguably the toughest conference top-to-bottom in the nation despite mostly hovering around .500. There’s little doubt that this is a team capable of making noise in the NCAA tournament, but whether or not they show enough to get there is a separate question.
“I just think our team was really resilient,” said Pollard. “Early on, we fell behind to Campbell after the tough loss on Monday night to UNC, and our guys were resilient enough and tough enough to play through it. And then we had the bad loss here on Friday night and our guys, again, they were really tough, to be able to come back after that bad loss and win the series.”
The Blue Devils next head to Charlottesville, Va., to take on a hot Virginia team next weekend.