The Blue Devils are starting a new tradition.
For the second week in a row, the Duke offense exploded in the early innings and starter Andrew Healy posted a strong midweek performance to pick up the win, this time en route to a 19-0 shellacking of Davidson.
Twelve runs through the first two innings allowed the Blue Devils to control the game for its entirety, though the Duke offense would continue to add runs in the later innings. Five pitchers, including four freshmen, combined to allow just six hits to the Wildcats — who entered Tuesday’s matchup having won 11 of their last 12 games — in a dominant shutout performance, allowing the Blue Devils to cruise to victory.
“We’ve played really, really well in the midweek … and we’ve done it in an impressive fashion,” said head coach Chris Pollard. “We put nine on East Carolina, we put 15 on Campbell, so we have flexed our muscle a little bit in the midweek.”
After leadoff man Alex Mooney was hit by a pitch to begin the home half of the first inning, Andrew Fischer softly bounced a grounder to third base. Mooney was able to take advantage of the groundout, though, advancing two bases with an acrobatic dive into third to avoid the waiting tag. Two pitches later, catcher Alex Stone smashed one over the left-field fence to give Duke (21-11) the early advantage.
After the Blue Devils tacked on another run and reloaded the bases, graduate first baseman MJ Metz recorded his 150th-career hit by way of a towering grand slam. Just like that, Duke had jumped out to a 7-0 lead before a second out had been recorded, and it would never look back.
Leading the Blue Devils to their fifth straight midweek win was the freshman Healy, who made just his third-career start against Davidson (19-12). The Glen Mills, Pa., native posted four scoreless innings to set the tone for Duke and allow the offense to establish its commanding lead.
The Wildcats managed just four hits and no walks against Healy, though the impressive start was not completely void of tense situations as Davidson threatened to score the first run of the game. The young hurler stranded two to escape the frame with no harm done and went on to control his final three innings of work with ease.
“They [hit] single, double and all the sudden they’ve got second and third [with] nobody out, and making his third career start, he makes a great play … to get the [first] out and then executes two strikeouts to get himself off the field,” Pollard said of Healy. “That’s now 20 innings of baseball he’s pitched, [and] he’s walked one player. … That’s really, really elite command for a freshman.”
The two biggest innings for the high-powered Blue Devil offense came to start the game, as it followed up its seven-spot in the opening frame with five more runs in the second. A solo shot from Stone — the junior’s second home run in as many innings — resumed the scoring for Duke.
Five batters later, Metz stepped to the plate with runners on every base once again. With two outs, the first baseman hit a high fly that dropped into no man’s land down the right-field line. Davidson outfielder Henry Koehler made a sliding attempt at the ball but could not corral it, allowing all three baserunners to score on Metz’s double and moving the graduate to an impressive seven RBIs on the day. Infielder Cole Hebble singled two pitches later to score Metz for the Blue Devils’ fifth and final run of the inning.
With the cushion of a double-digit lead, Duke was able to play confidently for the remainder of the contest, continuing to score and allowing some younger and less experienced players to get valuable innings and at-bats.
The Blue Devils added more runs in the middle innings by way of timely hitting paired with errant Davidson pitching.
After four straight Duke hitters were awarded free passes to start the sixth by way of either a walk or hit-by-pitch, Fischer pulled a sharp single through the right side to score two. The freshman also had a triple in the contest. A pinch-hit groundout from catcher Andrew Yu would score the Blue Devils’ 19th and final run.
“We talked coming into this game that we felt like there were probably going to be opportunities to take advantage of some free offense,” Pollard said. “They had some guys with high walk rates and we needed to be patient, hit in a small zone, and we did that. [We had] 10 walks tonight, and then we were able to be on time with some fastballs, too.”
In the fifth, an RBI triple from Mooney was followed up by a run-scoring groundout from Fischer and a monstrous shot to center field from designated hitter Luke Storm to score three runs.
Duke saw consistent and balanced production throughout the lineup with eight players recording at least one RBI, but there were a couple of standouts.
“I thought Alex Stone had really good at-bats, and I said to our team I thought Cole Hebble did a great job taking advantage of the start,” said Pollard.
After Healy exited, the Blue Devils were able to preserve some of their more familiar arms and reward a few pitchers who have been a bit buried in the depth of the bullpen.
“We had an opportunity to get some guys work that hadn’t gotten work in a while. We got Gabe Nard a couple innings [and] he was very effective, we got Kassius Thomas an inning [and] he looked good,” Pollard said. “To get some young guys that hadn’t been in the regular rotation in there and get them some work bodes well, so I was pleased with that.”
Freshman Owen Proksch and graduate student Caleb McRoy each tossed a scoreless frame as well.
A challenging test awaits Duke, which will head to Chestnut Hill, Mass., in hopes of nabbing its first ranked series win against No. 16 Boston College.
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