Duke baseball knocks 5 home runs, follows Healy to midweek shutout of William & Mary

<p>Graduate second baseman Cole Hebble (above) hit the last of Duke's five home runs Tuesday at Durham Bulls Athletic Park.</p>

Graduate second baseman Cole Hebble (above) hit the last of Duke's five home runs Tuesday at Durham Bulls Athletic Park.

For much of the season, Duke has been dominant in its midweek games. Backed by a barrage of home runs, the Blue Devils rode an excellent pitching performance and strong defensive play to a 7-0 shutout victory Tuesday evening against William & Mary at Durham Bulls Athletic Park.

“I was really impressed by our club and I thought we played a very complete game,” said head coach Chris Pollard after the game. “I think we played as well tonight as anybody in the country.”

The Blue Devils (24-12) jumped out to an early lead in the bottom of the first. Andrew Fischer opened up the scoring with a solo shot, obliterating a 3-2 pitch 436 feet into right field. Fischer, who set the program’s rookie single-season record Friday with his eighth home run of the year, has continued to add to his total.

“[Fischer] is a really special hitter. Really special, as advanced at his age as anybody I've ever coached,” said Pollard. “What I keep remarking to people is not only does he have great raw power, but he's a true hitter. He hits the ball at all fields. He has great plate discipline, he understands the zone really well. It's the total package.”

Duke’s defense began the day strong. After the Tribe (24-14) went three-up, three-down in the first, the Blue Devils continued to dominate in the field. While freshman left-handed pitcher Andrew Healy did allow two runners on base in the second inning,  the southpaw sealed the deal with runners on first and second when he reflexively caught a ball hit right back at him.

Through the third inning, the Tribe bats were struggling as Healy continued to dominate. When William & Mary did manage to make contact, Blue Devil fielders were in the right positions to make plays and keep the Tribe largely off the basepaths.

“It felt great having [second baseman Cole] Hebble behind me making some plays,” said Healy after the game. “Alex Mooney making some sweet plays at shortstop felt good.”

Overall, it was an excellent day for Healy, who retired the side in the fourth inning to set a new personal best with eight strikeouts to go along with just one walk. Such strong starts appear to have a tangible impact for the rest of the team, too.

“This is now four Tuesdays in a row that [Healy] has gone out and thrown the ball really, really well,” said Pollard. “He's really grown into something special. It's fun to watch.”

After the two runs in the first inning, Duke’s offense slowed down. The Blue Devils were putting runners on base but struggling to send them home. William and Mary’s pitching staff managed to limit Duke to three runs in the first four innings. 

That all changed in the bottom of the fifth when the home runs began to fly. Mooney cranked a 1-0 pitch just to the right of the ballpark’s Blue Monster to pick up his fourth home run of the season. That was followed in the sixth by first baseman MJ Metz, who smashed another into left to extend the lead. 

The home runs continued through the eighth as Damon Lux opened with a solo shot. After Giovanni DiGiacomo made it to second on a line drive to center field, Hebble blasted his first as a Blue Devil over the high wall in left to widen Duke’s margin to 7-0. In terms of home runs, this season’s Blue Devils already sit at the sixth spot in program history and third since Pollard’s tenure began.

“I think we are a team that is capable of hitting a lot of home runs,” said Pollard. “I think the park played small tonight, and we put some really good swings on some good arms.”

Duke’s bullpen finished strong as right-handed pitcher Jimmy Romano came to the mound to close out the game. Romano’s first batter grounded out, but his second dropped a single into center field. Junior catcher Alex Stone managed to throw out the Tribe runner at second base on a bobbled ball, and Romano recorded a strikeout to end the game. 

Despite scoring fewer runs than in many of their other midweek competitions, the Blue Devils played a strong all-around game Tuesday night. The bats were firing, the pitching was excellent and the fielding was solid. Duke will want to carry that momentum into the weekend, when it faces a tough ACC team in No. 13 Louisville. That being said, the squad from Durham feels good. 

“I'm confident we're gonna win this series against Louisville,” said Healy. 

The Blue Devils will fight again at 6 p.m. Friday when the Cardinals come to Durham Bulls Athletic Park for the first of a three-game series.

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