It was Duke’s turn to bring out the broomsticks this weekend.
After getting swept in their last two ACC series, the Blue Devils took all three games from No. 10 Notre Dame at Jack Coombs Field to remind the rest of the conference that the defending ACC champions are not to be counted out just yet. Duke crushed the Fighting Irish 15-5 Thursday night, walked them off 4-3 Friday thanks to the bat of RJ Schreck and held them off 6-2 Saturday to complete the perfect series.
“We use a phrase all the time and I’ve used it probably more this weekend than I’ve ever used it—I talk about staying in the fight,” head coach Chris Pollard said. “If you stay in the fight and you’re resilient, then you give yourself a chance for some of those things to start to even out in your favor.”
Freshman shortstop Alex Mooney started the series with a 3-for-4 performance Thursday and set the table Saturday to almost single-handedly give Duke (16-20, 6-12 in the ACC) its first lead of the game. Mooney singled on the first pitch, swiped second and advanced to third on the errant throw. All that was left for junior Graham Pauley to do was put the ball in play, and that he did with an RBI groundout to put the Blue Devils up 1-0.
The Blue Devils went on to add some insurance in the bottom of the fourth courtesy of some situational hitting from freshman Andrew Yu and a bomb off of the batter’s eye in center field from senior Damon Lux for a two-run homer.
That all paled in spectacularity in comparison to the grab Devin Obee made in the top of the third to stifle any early offensive momentum Notre Dame (21-8, 8-7) could mount. Fighting Irish left fielder Ryan Cole, at the plate with two runners on base and two outs, crushed a pitch from Aaron Beasley. The ball peaked at the same height as the trees in left center, looking like it would surely be enough to at least score both runners and maybe even leave the yard.
That is until Obee launched himself into the top of the fence to simultaneously corral the baseball and faceplant into the wall for a play worthy of SportsCenter’s Top 10.
“Crack of the bat, I just knew I had to go,” Obee said, also saying that was the best catch of his career when asked after the game.
On the Blue Devil bump, southpaws Aaron Beasley and Luke Fox shoved all afternoon to combine for 8.1 innings. Beasley tossed the first three innings and then handed it off to Fox for 5.1, the latter of whom diced up nine hitters, largely thanks to his slider.
“I felt really good with [that pitch] in the pen actually,” Fox said. “It felt like the ball was really coming out of my hand clean and it kept going all the way out there.”
For the pitching staff as a whole, there was a lot for Pollard to like over the weekend. Ace Marcus Johnson gave up three runs across six innings Friday, freshman Jonathan Santucci tossed four scoreless innings Thursday and relief pitchers Jimmy Loper, Josh Allen and Billy Seidl combined for 10.1 innings across the series without giving up an earned run.
“We've had a lot of things that just haven't really gone our way. But we really just focused on keeping our heads down and working,” Fox said. “And focusing on what works, and trusting our process there.”
To start off the series Thursday, Duke routed Notre Dame with 16 total hits and eight of the nine starters recording a knock. Yu and Pauley led the charge, with each accounting for four knocks and two and three RBI, respectively.
Friday was a different story with Notre Dame ace John Michael Bertrand on the hill. Bertrand entered the contest ranked 20th in the country with his 1.53 ERA, but Duke was able to scratch two runs across to even the score. Heading into the eighth inning of that one, the Blue Devils were down 3-2 and in need of some late-game heroics.
In stepped sophomore Luke Storm, who delivered a moonshot off the light post in right center to tie the ballgame and give Schreck his walk-off opportunity in the 11th inning.
Despite the big series win, the Blue Devils have a ways to go before they even qualify for one of the 12 spots for the ACC Championship and they need some big wins to start building a resume worthy of an at-large NCAA tournament bid. But there’s no doubt that there is a spark in Durham.
“Coach Pollard always tells us to stay in the fight,” Obee said. “We stayed in the fight and that’s the results we get.”
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Jake Piazza is a Trinity senior and was sports editor of The Chronicle's 117th volume.