The right pitch.
Batters search for it. Hitting coaches harp on it. Analysts discuss it ad nauseam. No matter the level, getting runners on base is ultimately all about one thing—waiting for the right pitch.
On an overcast Tuesday afternoon at Wilson Field, Duke put on a clinic in waiting for and connecting on the right pitches, as a five-run third inning and a—get this—13-run fifth inning sent the Blue Devils on their way to an 18-2 run-rule victory against Davidson. Eighteen runs scored marks the most for the program in a game since a 23-8 drubbing of Northwestern back in 2019, and it certainly was no accident.
“We strung together some tough at-bats to get guys on, and then we were patient,” head coach Chris Pollard said. “They struggled with command, and we didn’t get outside ourselves [and] try to hit too big of a zone. Then when they made a pitching change and they got back in the zone, we were on time with fastballs, it was just a really good job of staying within ourselves and executing based on what we were getting from the mound.”
As if a 5-1 lead was not convincing enough, Duke (25-20) went to work on ending any chance of a Davidson (24-23) rally in the top of the fifth. The inning felt like it was on a repeating loop, with the Blue Devil batters staying put on pitches that flirted with the corners, yet still swinging aggressively on fastballs over the plate. Once catcher Michael Rothenberg launched a double down the right field line to bring RJ Schreck around, the protective glass had completely shattered and Duke's fifth-inning run parade began.
Look, I know what you're about to say. This could have just been an instance where the Wildcats, who used eight pitchers Tuesday, were simply unable to find the strike zone. And while that may technically be true, the fifth inning in particular was still a first-rate exhibition in waiting for the proper opportunity to strike, so much so that the Blue Devils notched four straight runs on three walks and a wild pitch.
"When you play at this level and you see really good stuff, if you get outside of the zone and you start trying to force the issue and swing at pitches that are not pitches you can handle, pitches that are outside the zone, you can really get yourself in a bad place," Pollard said. "So you've gotta maintain that plate discipline, and our guys did a good job with that today."
While the fifth featured more fireworks, it was actually the third inning that saw the Blue Devils awaken from an early slumber in this in-state affair. In a roughly 15-minute sequence, Duke turned a 1-0 deficit into a commanding 5-1 lead. First, it was designated hitter Chad Knight, who kept a patient eye and was walked by Davidson righty Bennett Flynn. Then, sophomore Graham Pauley spotted—you guessed it—the right pitch, doubling off the wall in right centerfield to bring Knight home.
From there, it was all systems go for the scorching, yet mindful, Duke batters, with Joey Loperfido and Chris Crabtree connecting on RBI singles once they saw something that caught their respective eyes. Rothenberg, on the other hand, brought Loperfido home via a hit-by-pitch on a 3-2 count.
At this point, you might be wondering about the impact this type of offensive production may have on a pitching staff. In Duke's case, having a substantial lead allowed for Pollard and company to cycle through multiple arms, with starter Billy Seidl only taking the mound for 2.0 innings and four relievers getting a shot to throw.
“We only used seven pitchers this past weekend versus Virginia Tech, so there were some guys who we wanted to get work and we did, and everybody was pretty efficient," Pollard said. "So we didn’t put ourselves in a position where we extended anybody past what they could do and still be ready to come back and pitch this weekend.”
The Blue Devils, currently on their longest win streak of the season at five games, now shift gears to the final regular season series against Clemson. Beginning Thursday, the three-game slate will be Duke's final opportunity to position itself for a run in the ACC tournament.
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Maybe if they keep waiting for the right pitches, the Blue Devils will keep the mojo going.