In baseball, a perfectionist game, just one error can result in a steep price to pay. For the Blue Devils, two errors cost them five total runs and ultimately, the game.
On Tuesday, No. 12 Duke lost its regular-season home finale to Gardner-Webb by a final score of 9-5 at Jack Coombs Field. After taking a 2-1 lead in the bottom of the fifth with a solo shot from sophomore Alex Mooney, Blue Devil errors on the diamond extended the seventh inning, in which the Runnin’ Bulldogs scored a total of five runs. Gardner-Webb would add three more runs in the eighth inning with some clutch two-out hitting. Thus, by the time Duke began to rally in the bottom of the eighth, it found itself staring down a massive 9-2 deficit with only six outs remaining.
“Credit to them for moving the ball in some big spots,” Duke head coach Chris Pollard said of Gardner-Webb’s plate approach via GoDuke. “They didn’t swing and miss and a lot of it was soft contact. I think candidly we need to make a better effort to come up with some of those balls.”
The woes in the seventh inning began after graduate student Charlie Beilenson walked Gardner-Webb’s Jacob Marcos to load the bases. The first error occurred after the next Runnin’ Bulldogs batter, Nate Anderson, hit a ground ball towards first baseman MJ Metz, who was unable to field the ball cleanly. As the baseball rolled into right field, Gardner-Webb was able to scratch two runs across.
The second occurred with runners on second and third and one out, when the ball was hit on the ground to Metz once again. In an effort to save another run, he threw the ball home. However, catcher Alex Stone was unable to corral the bouncing throw, which careened off his glove and to the backstop, allowing another Runnin’ Bulldog to score on the play. The play extended Gardner-Webb’s lead to 6-2.
The situation only worsened in the top of the eighth, as Duke freshman Gabriel Nard allowed a three-run rally with two outs. First, Gardner-Webb’s Mark Black hit a single to right that scored one runner. Then, following a walk and an executed double steal, the Runnin’ Bulldogs’ Trevor Mattson extended the lead to 9-2 with a two-run single.
“We had some chances to get off the field and we weren’t able to do so,” Pollard said of his team’s pitching and fielding struggles.
The Blue Devils (34-17, 15-11 in the ACC) did have some offensive success, rallying in the bottom of the eighth, as Metz got one back with a first-pitch home run to left field. Freshman Tyler Albright also doubled into left center, scoring Luke Storm to claw the lead back. However, all day long, Duke was unable to fully capitalize on the times when Gardner-Webb (29-22, 13-11 Big South) erred. For example, after a mistake put runners on second and third in the bottom of the ninth with one out, the Blue Devils were only able to scratch one run, as Metz grounded out to score junior Jay Beshears before Storm struck out to end the game.
“We didn’t string [hits] together with runners in scoring position,” Pollard said in regards to his team’s approach at the plate. “You have to have some individual guys who say “I am going to be that guy with runners on and an opportunity” to drive in some runs.”
Stone continues to deliver day-in and day-out for the Blue Devils at the dish, as he knocked in two hits in five plate appearances. The performance extended his active hitting streak to 25 games, the longest streak under Pollard.
Up next, Duke hopes to bounce back and finish the year on a high note with a highly anticipated trip to Coral Gables, Fla., to face off against No. 9 Miami. First pitch is set for 7 p.m. Thursday.
“I told our guys you are going to have some funks like this during the season and you don’t get to pick when they happen,” Pollard said. “We are dealing with one right now and it will take us fighting our way to the other side.”
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