On Feb. 28 when Duke took down then-No. 20 Eastern Carolina 9-0, it was a shock to many who predicted the Blue Devils to finish near the bottom of the ACC. However, head coach Chris Pollard said it was a sign that “we can play with anybody in the country.” Now, with its third-straight ranked series win, this time against No. 11 Virginia, No. 16 Duke has established itself as not just capable, but ready to compete for an ACC title.
After trouncing the Cavaliers 17-5 Friday and falling 10-2 Saturday, the Blue Devils jumped out to an early 3-0 lead and never looked back Sunday, ultimately winning the game 7-3. Junior Alex Stone was the catalyst, going yard in each game and finishing the weekend with seven hits. The win put Duke at the top of the Coastal division in the ACC entering the final month of the regular season.
“We did a lot of different things [well]. We manufactured runs, played a tremendous game defensively and I can't say enough about the job our guys did on the mound,” Pollard said. “Really complete win, we were really good in all places today. [It is] a tremendous series win on the road in a tough place to win a series.”
Although Virginia finished the game with nine hits, just two less than the Blue Devils’ 11, the game never seemed in doubt. This was thanks to a three-run first inning that gave Duke (31-13, 14-9 in the ACC) enough momentum to propel it throughout the afternoon.
The rally began when Cavaliers starting pitcher Jack O’Connor walked three straight Blue Devils to load the bases. Duke, who came into the series ranked 23rd in the nation in runs scored per game at 8.4, did not let the opportunity slip away. A single from LSU transfer Giovanni DiGiacomo, a sac-fly from graduate student Damon Lux and a double from junior Luke Storm put Virginia (35-11, 13-11) on the ropes before it ever stepped to the plate.
Stone tacked on another in the top of the third, taking a hanging slider over the left field fence to extend his hitting streak to 18 games. The catcher also displayed his defensive prowess in the bottom of the third, catching sophomore Colin Tuft in between first and second and getting the out via a rundown.
“[Stone is] catching everyday behind the plate, which is physically grueling. He's been so good defensively. And then on top of that, he's given us such great production on offense,” Pollard said.
Not satisfied with just four RBIs on the weekend, Stone drove in sophomore Alex Mooney with a single in the top of the fourth. Graduate student MJ Metz followed that up with a single of his own, bringing the score to 6-0 in favor of the Blue Devils.
When all was said and done, the top four batters in Duke’s lineup – Mooney, junior Jay Beshears, Stone and Metz – totaled six hits and six runs scored.
On the defensive side of things, the Blue Devils were able to limit damage from a talented Cavaliers lineup. After two unlucky infield singles in the bottom of the second, Virginia seemed ready to give an answer to Duke’s early outburst.
However, a line drive up the middle was caught by graduate student Cole Hebble, who stepped on the bag at second to turn two and save the team from any runs scored. Hebble has filled in for the injured Andrew Fischer, and while he does not provide the same bat that the talented freshman did, Hebble’s play has helped the Blue Devils not break stride amidst adversity.
While starting pitcher Andrew Healy finished his outing with three innings pitched and no runs allowed, Duke was not able to hold the Cavaliers scoreless for the entire game. Virginia picked up one run off relief pitcher Adam Boucher and tacked on two more via a Jake Gelof home run off freshman Gabriel Nard.
Since no pitcher threw longer than Healy, though, Pollard was able to prevent the Cavaliers from going on any extended rallies by constantly changing the batters’ looks. In fact, no starting pitcher threw more than four innings on the weekend. This strategy, quite unique among the top teams in the nation, has been a major reason for Duke’s 3.42 team ERA – good for fourth in the nation.
Before the Blue Devils enter the home stretch of their season, they will take a short break for finals. The team faces Longwood and Rider before returning to ACC play May 12 against Georgia Tech, who sits at the bottom of the 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.