Often, the postponements and cancellations that come along with inclement weather can cause pitchers to lose their rhythm and make for messy, high-scoring affairs. However, even after two days of heavy rain postponed Duke’s weekend series against Virginia Tech and canceled a game Saturday, both sides brought pitchers firing on all cylinders.
The Blue Devils defeated the Hokies 3-1 in the first game of their Sunday doubleheader at Jack Coombs Field before falling 5-2 in the second bout. Duke’s pitching staff held Virginia Tech to just two hits in game one, but a dominant outing from Hokies’ starter Drue Hackenberg made the difference in game two.
“I thought we played well. I thought we pitched well,” head coach Chris Pollard said. “… I told our team [that] I think if we [got] Hackenberg out of the game sooner we [would have won] the ballgame. We certainly pitched well enough to win the game. But, sometimes you have to give credit and tip your hat. I thought Hackenberg was really good for them.”
Eager to get the bats going after two days of rain, the Blue Devils (20-11, 7-7 in the ACC) wasted no time getting on the scoreboard. Senior Chad Knight and junior Luke Storm got things going with hard ground balls, both past a diving Carson DeMartini at third, and graduate student Damon Lux loaded the bases with a bloop single just over the head of the Hokies’ second baseman.
A fielder’s choice off the bat of graduate student Giovanni DiGiacomo and a wild pitch gave Duke two runs, and sophomore Alex Mooney drove a single to left field for his 23rd RBI of the season to make the score 3-0.
Meanwhile, graduate starting pitcher Alex Gow cruised through the game’s opening frames, frustrating hitters with his curveball en route to seven strikeouts through five innings. The Kenyon transfer held the Hokies (18-11, 5-9) hitless by varying his timing and pitch selection, shutting down a team that came into the game hitting .311.
“[Gow’s performance] was huge, for him to come out and give us five strong innings like that [and] preserve the bullpen. I thought it was a terrific start,” Pollard said.
Virginia Tech finally got its first hit in the top of the sixth inning off relief pitcher Charlie Beilenson, with junior Jack Hurley firing the ball to left field. Freshman Tyler Albright mishandled the ball, allowing Hurley to advance to second and junior Carson Jones, who reached on a walk, to reach third base. DeMartini drove in a run with a fielder’s choice, but Beilenson escaped the inning without any more damage.
Blue Devil relief pitchers Fran Oschell III and James Tallon closed out game one without getting into any trouble, and the pitching staff finished the game with 13 strikeouts while only allowing two hits. Tallon, who has surrendered just one run all year, earned his sixth save.
In game two, however, the script was flipped.
The Hokies opened the game’s scoring thanks to a weak bouncer from DeMartini that hit off starting pitcher Jason White’s glove, followed by two singles from sophomore Christian Martin and freshman Garrett Michel. Then, after a ground ball went under Storm’s glove at first, DeMartini struck again, this time with a two-run home run to right field to put the Hokies ahead 3-0.
They scored their fourth run thanks to a leadoff double from Jones and — after making a diving stop to save a run — a throwing error from Mooney. Duke’s two errors caused three runs for Virginia Tech and dug the team an unnecessary hole.
To make matters worse for the Blue Devils, Hackenberg was dealing. Topping Gow’s game-one performance, Hackenberg struck out 11 batters through eight innings while giving up just two hits. The sophomore consistently tricked Duke hitters into chasing pitches out of the zone and kept them guessing at the plate.
“He tunneled his slider in the fastball tunnel really well, and we just weren't seeing it,” Pollard said. “We didn't recognize it. It reminded me of when we saw Kumar Rocker in 2019, and he just kept throwing sliders and we didn't recognize them.”
The Blue Devils managed to get a run across thanks to a fielding error by the Hokies in the bottom of the seventh. After junior Alex Stone drew a walk, Virginia Tech shortstop Clay Grady turned what could have been a double play into a throwing error that put runners at second and third. Storm came through, hitting the ball just short of the fence, but plenty deep enough for Stone to tag up.
The lineup finally looked at its best at the plate only after Hackenberg came out of the game in the ninth inning. The team’s only extra-base hit came when Storm hammered the ball off the bottom of the wall to drive in a run. It was too little too late, though, and the Hokies took game two.
The road will not get any easier for the Blue Devils, who travel to Chestnut Hill, Mass., next weekend to face No. 9 Boston College. That series marks the beginning of a tough, telling stretch for Pollard’s squad, which sits fourth in the ACC Coastal Division.
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Dom Fenoglio is a Trinity first-year and an assistant Blue Zone editor of The Chronicle's 119th volume.