Coming off an offensively dominant series win against Baylor, Duke capitalized on its opportunity to take down a premier opponent in a game characterized by stellar pitching and impeccable defense that parlayed into explosive Blue Devil offense in the middle innings.
On a sunny Tuesday afternoon at Durham Bulls Athletic Park, the Blue Devils trounced No. 20 East Carolina in front of a Pirate-dominated crowd, putting up an eight-run fifth inning to cruise to a 9-0 victory. The Duke pitching staff, who used four different arms during the game only allowed three hits while getting out of a multitude of jams in the middle innings to preserve the Blue Devil lead.
"We beat a really good team," head coach Chris Pollard said. "That's a team that's certainly capable of hosting a regional, certainly capable of getting to Omaha. It should allow our guys to have the understanding that when we play like we're capable of, we can play with anybody in the country.”
Duke (6-2) held off East Carolina (5-2) in the top half of the fifth with a bases-loaded strikeout from freshman Owen Proksch and followed it with a monster eight-run bottom half. The Blue Devils batted around before recording the second out and forced East Carolina to use five pitchers.
The offensive onslaught began with a bunt single from graduate outfielder Giovanni DiGiacomo in a pinch-hit opportunity followed by a bloop single to center field off the bat of sophomore shortstop Alex Mooney. That was enough to unsettle the Pirates. After Luke Storm walked on four straight balls to load the bases, the Blue Devils broke it open on a Jay Beshears grand slam that cleared the left field monster to make it 5-0.
The Blue Devil offense kept on chugging, drawing four straight walks to plate another run. The frustration continued to mount for the visiting side, as a wild pitch brought home another score. With his second at-bat of the inning, DiGiacomo delivered the knockout blow of the frame, knocking in two more on a single that snuck past the second baseman to cap off an eight-run inning.
But the first blood of the game came courtesy of freshman designated hitter Andrew Fischer, who snuck a home run over the right field fence to give Duke an 1-0 lead in the bottom of the fourth inning. The New Jersey native’s first career home run could not have come at a better time for the Blue Devils, as just their second hit of the day turned into their first run.
“Everyone's seeing themselves trying to pass the torch to the next guy. We got a big lineup full of tough tough hitters, and no one's just gonna roll over,” Fischer said.
Graduate transfer Alex Gow took the mound to start the game for Duke, his second outing of the season. In his first appearance of the year against Saint Joseph’s, Gow only made it 1.2 innings, surrendering two hits and two walks before exiting the game. On Tuesday however, the Kentfield, Calif., native looked like the former North Coast Athletic Conference Pitcher of the Year he was at Kenyon, mowing through four no-hit innings, stifling East Carolina’s explosive lineup and earning the win.
“That's what's preached all throughout our game pregame prep and all throughout the week. Just go out and attack as best often. It's all you can do,” Gow said.
After Proksch entered for Gow for the fifth, he hit a batter and walked two more before getting that crucial strikeout.
“That was, for me, the key moment in the ballgame," Pollard said. "We had a 1-0 lead, loaded the bases. Just the poise and the mound presence to stay in the moment, execute a pitch right there to to get off the field, that was a real defining moment in the game.”
The next youngster to throw for the Blue Devils in the contest was Gabriel Nard, who handled the duties in the sixth inning. Like Proksch, Nard faced some adversity early in his outing, walking the first batter he faced. But just like his freshman teammate, Nard battled back as well, forcing a double play to clear the bases. After issuing another walk, the freshman shut the door, completing another scoreless inning from the Duke pitching staff.
East Carolina came across their first hit in the top of the seventh, when Cam Clonch roped one to right field off freshman right-hander Aidan Weaver. Duke’s infield turned a double play to escape the inning unscathed. Weaver came back out for the eighth and did the job again, surrendering one hit but navigating through the frame without allowing a run. Graduate Aaron Beasley closed it out in the ninth to seal the victory.
Now on a four-game winning streak, the Blue Devils will look to build their momentum against Princeton in a three-game set at Durham Bulls Athletic Park starting Friday at 4 p.m.
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