Duke baseball drops weekend series to North Carolina

Duke dropped Sunday's game to North Carolina to close out the weekend series.
Duke dropped Sunday's game to North Carolina to close out the weekend series.

As the 1941 song “Joltin’ Joe DiMaggio” about the great New York Yankees center fielder says, “we need a hit, so here I go.”

Duke tried its best to take those lyrics to heart this weekend as it hosted then-No. 19 North Carolina at the Durham Bulls Athletic Park. Starting the weekend Friday with a 10-5 loss against the Tar Heels before registering a 9-3 victory against the group Saturday night, Sunday was meant to be redemption to keep the numbers in the Blue Devils’ favor. However, it ended up being the Tar Heels who got the critical hits to take the final game of the series 4-1.

After spending the first four innings scoreless in the third matchup and trailing North Carolina 2-0 after allowing two runs in the third, Duke needed a hit to take the final game against the Tar Heels. Yet, the group could not get what it needed to win when all was said and done.

“I just told our guys, the biggest thing we want is to continue to be really aggressive to really compete. Well, I thought we did that yesterday,” head coach Chris Pollard said about his group’s performance Sunday afternoon. “And we just didn’t get enough going offensively today, pushing off runs across the play.”

Things got interesting after Chris Crabtree singled to right field before Alex Stone reached on a fielder's choice and advanced to second base on a throwing error in the bottom of the fifth.

Luckily for the Blue Devils, Wil Hoyle hit an RBI single to left field to send Stone home for Duke’s first and only run of the day. After his hit, Hoyle stole second base, but a strikeout from graduate student Chris Davis closed out the inning for the Blue Devils. 

Duke (11-9, 2-4 in the ACC) struggled throughout the contest, never really finding its footing when it needed it, primarily attributable to a change in pitching strategy by North Carolina (17-3, 5-1) that Duke didn’t adjust to.

“The biggest thing was they pitched us a certain way over the last part of the baseball game yesterday—they used a heavy dose of slider breaking ball, and they just went with the same approach today,” Pollard said Sunday.

Sunday's game began for Duke with a walk from Davis, quickly followed by senior RJ Shreck getting to first base on a fielder’s choice. However, Davis was called out on that same play, and the Blue Devils finished the inning empty-handed after sophomore Luke Storm struck out.

Not many positive things happened during the bottom of the second for Duke, with all three of Duke’s players on offense getting out. Crabtree suffered a flyout, Stone struck out on bat and Trevor Johnson grounded out.  

On the flip side, North Carolina was foreshadowing big numbers to come in the first and second innings, registering three hits from Angel Zarate, Danny Serretti and Mac Horvath but stranding all three runners on the base path. 

Things started picking up in the third inning. North Carolina’s Vance Honeycutt homered to lead off the top half, along with quality hits from Zarate and Tomas Frick, who respectively doubled to center and singled to right to get the group’s second score from Zarate. 

“I think the biggest thing that we talked about over the course of the game was just going up there and sitting off-speed because that’s what you’re getting. And if you’re sitting on an off-speed pitch, you’ve got a better opportunity to adjust if that pitch is out of the zone—so your chase should go down,” Pollard said about how he advised his group to improve. “And you be able to eliminate some of those pitches that we're swinging at that were out of the strike zone.”

However, those adjustments proved difficult for Duke as the contest remained slow after all three batters got out in the bottom of the third—and the Blue Devils had yet to register any hits, partially due to the tough-to-hit pitching from North Carolina.

The Tar Heels would record two more runs, one in the top of the sixth and one in the top of the eighth, thanks to a homer from Horvath and their star of the game, Honeycutt, whose double to left-center allowed Joe Jaconski to get the group a run.

North Carolina came into the ninth executing the same strategy that had allowed it to lead all game long, with Caden O'Brien pitching the final three outs to hand Duke the loss.

The Blue Devils will next take on William & Mary at the Durham Bulls Athletic Park at 4 p.m. Tuesday.

“It’s baseball. We got a day off tomorrow. They need to get some rest, they need to get back in the weight room and they need to have a short memory,” Pollard said about preparing for the next match.


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