Duke baseball's offense comes through in late innings against Clemson to claim first ACC road series

Freshman pitcher James Tallon.
Freshman pitcher James Tallon.

March is known as the season of Madness. However, the latest thrilling finish in Clemson, S.C., came not on the basketball court, but on the diamond. In Sunday’s rubber match of their weekend series against the Tigers, the Blue Devils managed game-tying home runs in both the eighth and ninth innings, ultimately winning 11-8.

In a messy game that saw Duke take the lead, give it up and take it back again, three players came through with massive home runs. Junior Luke Storm redeemed a three-error day with a two-run blast in the eighth to tie the game 6-6, junior Jay Beshears tied it again in the ninth with a solo shot and graduate student Damon Lux punctuated the game with a no-doubter to left center field that pushed the Blue Devils over the edge.

"We were really tough,” head coach Chris Pollard told GoDuke.com after the game. “We had some self-inflicted wounds earlier in the game and it allowed them to get back into the game. We were tough enough not to give into it and sometimes that is a really hard thing to do on the road in a hostile environment.”

After finally claiming the lead in the top of the ninth, Duke (13-7, 3-3 in the ACC) turned to freshman closer James Tallon. Although Tallon surrendered his first run of the season on an RBI single from junior Blake Wright, he shut the door on Clemson (12-8, 1-2) and secured the Blue Devils’ first conference series win of the season. The Arlington, Va., native has developed into a reliable late game option for Pollard, as the southpaw now has 14 strikeouts and just seven hits allowed.

In fact, Duke has leaned on multiple newcomers on its pitching staff. Coming into Sunday’s game, freshmen Tallon, Aidan Weaver and Gabriel Nard and graduate transfer Alex Gow had 47 innings pitched between them.

"That is three innings covered over the final half of that game by freshman. They have really good stuff,” Pollard told GoDuke.com. “Not only are [they] competing at a high level, but they are well prepared because of the job [pitching coach] Brady Kirkpatrick does to get these guys ready. When you have that kind of quality stuff, your margin of error goes up.”

However, the game’s outcome was in question after a three-run seventh inning from Clemson spelled trouble for Duke, which struggled uncharacteristically on defense. An error by Storm put the first runner on base, and the Tigers were able to capitalize with three straight hits, punishing graduate student Charlie Beilenson for leaving the ball over the plate. On the weekend, the Blue Devils finished with six errors, but they entered the series with just 12.

Thankfully for Duke, its bats were able to pick the team up. After Clemson scored the first run of the game on a bobbled ground ball to Storm in the bottom of the second, the Blue Devils wasted no time in responding.

The Tigers’ starting pitcher Caden Grice had a perfect trip through the lineup his first time through, but sophomore Alex Mooney led off the top of the fourth with a single to right center field. Walks to freshman Andrew Fischer and Beshears loaded the bases, and junior Alex Stone came through with a two-RBI single.

Mooney’s leadoff hit was a trend for Duke on the weekend, with 16 of its 27 leadoff batters reaching base.

Duke tacked on two more on account of Clemson’s pitchers struggling to find the zone. After a leadoff single from MJ Metz, a walk and a hit by pitch loaded the bases. Another walk, this time to Fischer, and a sacrifice fly from Stone gave the Blue Devils a 4-1 lead in the top of the fifth. The inning ended on a stolen base attempt by Mooney — the speedy sophomore tried to steal home but was thrown out by a wide margin and could not avoid the tag.

The Blue Devils also struggled with location at times, though, with Gow walking five Tigers. In the bottom of the fifth inning, one of those batters came around to score, with a walk, wild pitch and an error allowing Clemson to score two runs without needing a hit.

Sunday’s win was not pretty, but it did show Duke’s ability to battle through adversity. Coming from behind in both the eighth and ninth innings is impressive in itself, but the Blue Devils did so in their first conference road trip of the season. 

They will need that tenacity moving forward, as another away series awaits them next weekend. Duke will travel just down the road to take on No. 19 North Carolina in a telling test for the team.

Dom Fenoglio | Sports Managing Editor

Dom Fenoglio is a Trinity sophomore and a sports managing editor of The Chronicle's 120th volume.


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