‘Duke baseball’s identity’: Blue Devils use team-wide effort in win against Appalachian State

Freshman Alex Mooney tallied two hits in Duke's win Tuesday against Appalachian State.
Freshman Alex Mooney tallied two hits in Duke's win Tuesday against Appalachian State.

Spring hasn’t sprung until the ballpark is baked in sunlight. And Tuesday afternoon, Duke sprang to life under near-record-high temperatures for a Feb. 22 day in Durham. 

The Blue Devils beat Appalachian State 8-5 Tuesday in the Durham Bulls Athletic Park, enjoying a warm 73 degrees at first pitch and a mid-game offensive burst for the midweek win. Duke used seven pitchers on the day but only allowed three runs over the final seven innings. Six different players scored a run, while five knocked in RBIs.

“I feel like we have a lot of different leaders on this team,” said sophomore Chad Knight. “I think it's kind of like Duke baseball's identity: We have guys that step up and pick each other up at any given time, so we don't count anyone out. And it's really helpful when you know you have 40 other guys in the dugout you can turn to that are going to pick you up, and 40 other guys that you can trust.”

Duke (3-1) came alive in the fifth inning, as N.C. Central transfer Caleb McRoy stepped in to pitch for Duke and pounded the zone to the tune of three strikeouts in a scoreless frame. The bats rewarded him in the home side by chaining a 106-mph Alex Mooney single, fielding error and Knight home run that tucked just inside the left-field pole. After a Damon Lux strikeout, Chris Davis drew a walk, took second on a wild pitch and came all the way home when the Mountaineer catcher’s throw went into center field. As Davis jumped up in celebration, screaming, covered in dirt and helmet flying off, the Blue Devils led 5-4.

Duke stretched the lead in the bottom of the sixth, thanks to a Wil Hoyle single and 105-mph double to deep right from third baseman Graham Pauley. Back-to-back Mooney and Chris Crabtree walks put ducks on the pond, where the Blue Devils again stranded three runners with one out.

Freshman pitcher Jonathan Santucci took the seventh inning. After a disastrous debut Sunday, the lefty made the first batter he faced—who whiffed on a pitch away for Santucci’s first-career strikeout—look helpless. A single just over Pauley and double off of Lux’s glove scored one before Santucci ended the threat on his second strikeout.

The Duke offense reopened the lead, thanks to a Davis walk and double off the top of the left-field wall from right fielder Luke Storm. Freshman catcher Andrew Yu and Pauley got on via hit and error, respectively, but became the Blue Devils’ ninth and 10th runners stranded on the day. For the sake of the bit, Duke stranded runners at the corners with no outs in the eighth.

It was clear Duke was celebrating International Left Handers Day six months early when it sent sophomore Josh Allen out to pitch the eighth inning, the fifth Duke southpaw of the night. Allen closed in dominant fashion, getting six outs on 20 pitches, with a 65.0% called strike or whiff.

“I think that's as good as I've seen anybody throw the ball in the game since I've been here at Duke, and that's saying a lot,” head coach Chris Pollard said. “We've had a lot of really good arms, but that was electric.”

Despite the heat, Duke started off cold at the plate, with Mountaineer starter Cameron Kepley getting six of the first seven Blue Devils to two-strike counts.

The hitting began to spark in the third, with Hoyle taking a walk and Yu knocking his second-career hit. After a double play, Mooney spat on the first two pitches he saw before lacing a triple off of the base of the wall in left-center to cut the deficit to 2-1.

Kepley’s day ended on Mooney’s RBI, with Appalachian State (2-2) turning the evening into a bullpen game for both sides. Kepley walked towards the dugout with a lead in hand, having gone 2.2 innings in his first game in 1,036 days. By the time he crossed the third-base line, the entire Mountaineer dugout had cleared, all swarming Kepley in hugs.

Senior pitcher Aaron Beasley was Duke’s nominal starter, though his first inning of the season was a mixed bag: The lefty induced a called strike or whiff on eight of his 12 pitches, only allowing contact twice, but one was a no-doubter to right that put Appalachian State ahead 1-0. The second inning was a similar story: Only 14 pitches, 42.9% called strike or whiff (MLB average is just under 30%) and mostly soft contact, but just enough to scratch across another run.

Junior pitcher Michael Foltz, another southpaw, took the third inning. In his collegiate debut, the junior retired the side, getting ahead of each batter.

“So happy for Michael Foltz,” said Pollard. “He's had to deal with a lot of injuries over his time here, and to see him persevere and to get that outing was a lot of fun for me as a coach.”

Duke sent freshman pitcher Fran Oschell III out for the fourth inning for his debut. After three baserunners, a wild pitch, Lux throwing past home and Davis missing the cutoff man, two more Mountaineers scored.

The Blue Devils nearly started clawing back in the bottom half of the frame. The bases loaded for Hoyle, who worked the count 3-0. With Appalachian State pitcher Cameron Carter having thrown 10 of his 13 pitches that inning for balls, Hoyle took number 14 and dropped his bat—only for the umpire to call a strike. Seven pitches later, Hoyle and Yu had both struck out to strand three.

The Blue Devils travel to Waco, Texas this weekend for a series against Baylor.


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