Duke baseball shuts out Pittsburgh to cap home series win

<p>Ryan Higgins in Duke's Sunday win against Pittsburgh. The sophomore struck out five in four scoreless innings.</p>

Ryan Higgins in Duke's Sunday win against Pittsburgh. The sophomore struck out five in four scoreless innings.

Home is where the heart is. After what was a rough return Friday evening to Jack Coombs Field, Duke bounced back with 11-7 and 8-0 wins to take the next two games and capture the series win against Pittsburgh. 

The first game of the series was not one to write home about for the Blue Devils, who fell to the Panthers 13-1. After a Damon Lux solo home run in the second inning, the bats fell silent for the Blue Devils. Duke recorded just three hits in total Friday, while Pittsburgh racked up 13. The Blue Devils also had a bad break in the form of an injury to one of the team’s strongest pitchers in sophomore left-hander Jonathan Santucci.

“They played great. We played poorly,” said head coach Chris Pollard on Friday’s performance. “I think some of the fact that we played poorly was [that] we were hurting a little bit after the injury to Santucci.”

After the poor outing Friday, the Blue Devils (18-10, 6-6 in the ACC) turned it around in the latter two games of the series. On Saturday, Duke racked up 11 runs in an offensive slugfest as the two teams combined for 29 total hits and two home runs. The Blue Devils rode that momentum into another high-scoring win the next day.

Duke’s bats got going early Sunday afternoon after Alex Mooney and Andrew Fischer both got on base with quick singles. After second baseman Jay Beshears fouled out, cleanup hitter Alex Stone smashed an 0-1 pitch over the left-field wall to put the Blue Devils up 3-0 in the bottom of the first. 

“From the fifth inning on yesterday, we really played good baseball and really dominated all three phases of the series,” said Pollard.

In the second, the scoring continued. Giovanni DiGiacomo scored after a dropped fly ball in shallow left, and Mooney made it home on a Beshears single. The Blue Devils ended up stranding two runners on base and left the second inning up 5-0. Pittsburgh's starting pitcher, Logan Evans, lasted until just the top of the fourth. 

Pollard is happy with the performance of DiGiacomo at the bottom of the lineup, who was a mid-year transfer from LSU.

“[DiGiacomo] gave us great at bats all weekend. He saw a lot of pitches which is what you want from the nine,” said Pollard. “He did a great job getting on base.”

For the Panthers (12-13, 4-6), the offense floundered. Sophomore Ryan Higgins opened the game pitching for Duke, recording five strikeouts through four innings. Even when Pittsburgh did put the ball into play, it was often in the form of soft pop-ups or line drives into the shift. In the end, the Panthers recorded just five hits. 

The Blue Devils’ bats remained strong throughout the game, but Duke struggled at times to get runners across home plate. The Blue Devils left 10 runners stranded on base in total and were held scoreless from the second to midway through the sixth inning. 

In the fifth, Tyler Albright sent a bunt down the first-base line, and at first glance, it looked as if infielder Luke Storm had managed to sneak home on the fielder’s choice. Upon further review, Storm was ruled out. 

The Pittsburgh defense also held strong despite facing a barrage of balls in the outfield. When Beshears smacked one into left-center field, a ball that likely would have scored Fischer was instead cut short by Panther center fielder Kyle Hess’ diving grab. A Stone double on the next at-bat ultimately sent Fischer home.

Ultimately, no amount of acrobatic defensive plays or clutch strikeouts could save the Panthers. Duke’s bats overwhelmed Pittsburgh’s pitching staff as the Blue Devils walked out with an important series win at home.

Duke will go again Tuesday evening at 6 p.m. when it takes on No. 14 Campell at Durham Bulls Athletic Park. Before then, Pollard said after Sunday’s game that an official update on Santucci’s injury status is likely to come Monday.

“[Campbell is] the best mid-major team in the country right now.” said Pollard. “So we got our hands full, but I'm not gonna worry about that right now. We're gonna let our guys enjoy this win.”


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