After a sizzling April, the Blue Devils have finally cooled down.
No. 12 Duke lost its first ACC series since March 25 against North Carolina, dropping two of three at home against Georgia Tech, including an 8-5 loss Sunday led by a four-hit performance from the Yellow Jackets’ redshirt freshman Kristian Campbell. The weekend saw uncharacteristically vulnerable pitching for the Blue Devils, who gave up a combined 21 runs and 14 extra base hits.
“We had our chances and had opportunities to apply a lot of pressure, but they made pitches, and we weren't able to get the big hit,” head coach Chris Pollard told GoDuke.com after the game.
Georgia Tech, who is second in the ACC in batting average at .325, jumped on Duke’s pitching staff early and often. Sophomore Ryan Higgins, who started Sunday’s game for the Blue Devils (34-16, 15-11 in the ACC), lasted just one and two-thirds innings after giving up a three-run blast to senior Angelo Dispinga in the first and allowing two more hits and another run in the second.
The Yellow Jackets were not done there, as they then stung freshman Aidan Weaver for four more runs. Junior Drew Compton ripped a screaming line drive that carried over the right field fence to give Georgia Tech its fifth run of the game, and after Duke tied it in the bottom of the third, Campbell put the Yellow Jackets ahead for good with an RBI single in the top of the fourth.
When all was said and done, Georgia Tech had tagged Duke for 12 hits and eight runs. For a pitching staff that entered the weekend with a 3.61 ERA that was good for fourth best in the nation, Sunday marked a disappointing outing.
In the batter’s box, the Blue Devils nearly seemed capable of overcoming their pitching woes. Early in the game, every Georgia Tech blow was met with a Duke counterpunch.
Both sophomore Alex Mooney and junior Luke Storm hit leadoff doubles and came around to score in the first and second innings, respectively. Mooney came through again in the third with another leadoff double. This time, the lineup mounted a rally – punctuated by an RBI double from junior Alex Stone that extended his hitting streak to 24 games – that saw three runs cross the plate.
However, Duke did not tally another hit with runners on base for the rest of the game. Even with runners in scoring position in the fifth, sixth and seventh innings, the Yellow Jackets were able to maintain their lead. In large part, this was due to the pitching of sophomores Ben King and Terry Busse.
King, who earned the win for Georgia Tech, held the Blue Devils to just one hit in his three innings pitched, and Busse, the Yellow Jackets’ closer, pitched the final three innings after earning the save in Friday’s game.
In what could have been Sunday’s biggest moment, freshman Tyler Albright stepped up to the plate in the bottom of the seventh with the bases loaded. Just an inning before, junior Adam Boucher had come into the game to pitch with the bases loaded and struck out the side. Now, Albright, who already had a home run in each of the first two games of the series, was poised to put Duke on top. Instead, Busse struck him out on three straight pitches, all sliders, and killed the Blue Devils’ momentum.
From there, even with a strong outing from graduate student Aaron Beasley on senior day, Duke could not get back into the game. The Blue Devils finished with 10 hits, but also 11 runners left on base.
Sunday’s loss – along with wins by Miami and Virginia against Pittsburgh and Louisville, respectively – places Duke a half game back of first place in the Coastal Division entering the regular season’s final week.
Since the Blue Devils already beat the Cavaliers in their series earlier in the year, next weekend’s matchup against the Hurricanes may be winner-takes-all.
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Dom Fenoglio is a Trinity first-year and an assistant Blue Zone editor of The Chronicle's 119th volume.