In June 2022, MJ Metz went 2-for-9 with three walks in three games for Trinity (TX) in the Division III World Series. Now, a year later, the graduate transfer powered Duke in its first game of the 2023 NCAA Division I tournament with a magnificent three-home run game on a torn ACL.
After falling into an early deficit in game one of the Conway, S.C., Regional, the second-seeded Blue Devils gained the lead and never looked back, dominating No. 3-seed UNC Wilmington 12-3 Friday. Five different hitters notched at least one RBI as the Blue Devils out-scored the Seahawks by 11 runs over the last seven innings of the game.
“We felt like if we could be selective at the plate, that this ballpark played to our strengths,” head coach Chris Pollard said after the opening-round win. “And our guys did a great job of really hunting their pitch today.”
Metz was the story of the day for Duke’s offense. The San Diego native played first base throughout the season for the Blue Devils but was slotted in as the designated hitter Friday due to the brutal injury he sustained just 10 days earlier against N.C. State. Despite only being able to contribute on the offensive side, the 6-foot-6 slugger was easily the headliner for Duke against UNC Wilmington.
After a slow start found the Blue Devils trailing by one in the bottom of the fourth inning, Metz tied it up at two with his first blast of the day, a towering shot to right-center field. Duke was not finished in the frame, however, as Damon Lux put a two-run shot of his own over the center-field wall just three batters later to give the Blue Devils the lead they would hold onto for the remainder of the contest.
The Seahawks responded with a run of their own in the top of the fifth inning, but Duke tacked on two in the home half courtesy of another Metz home run to nearly the same exact spot as his blast an inning prior.
“I didn't come out here trying to do any of that,” Metz said in the postgame press conference. “[I am] just really grateful to be out on the field again, grateful to be given the shot, especially given what happened.”
Alex Gow, the only pitcher on the Blue Devil roster with double-digit starts, opened his 15th contest of the season against UNC Wilmington. The graduate transfer surrendered a run in each of the first two frames but then got into a solid rhythm, posting four and one-third innings before handing the ball over.
“I thought it was huge that Alex Gow settled in and got us to the fifth inning,” Pollard said. “[The Seahawks] were taking good swings early in the game. They had four hits — three extra-base hits — through the first two innings, and for him to settle in and get us two clean innings and then get that fifth inning opened up for us, I thought was really big.”
After UNC Wilmington catcher Bryan Arendt led off the fifth with a double and advanced to third on a groundout, Pollard decided to make the call to the bullpen and bring in Charlie Beilenson. Leadoff hitter Brock Wills promptly drove in the Seahawks’ third and final run—all of which were attributed to Gow—with an RBI groundout. However, with the bases now cleared, Beilenson took control of the contest with an appearance that Pollard described as “an electric outing.” The graduate transfer struck out four batters and gave up zero hits in his two and two-thirds innings of middle relief work.
“It was basically just trying to get ahead and stay ahead,” Beilenson said of his mindset coming into the appearance. “I felt like the momentum was about to turn, especially as soon as we put up a few of those runs, [so] it was basically just trying to keep them down and keep the momentum going in our favor.”
Adam Boucher and Aaron Beasley both added an inning each of scoreless work, and with the relievers holding UNC Wilmington at bay, the Duke offense continued to work. The Blue Devils delivered the knockout punch in the seventh inning, doubling their run total with six tallies in the frame. The inning began with a Jay Beshears solo blast to left field. After catcher Alex Stone — whose 30-game hit streak came to an end against the Seahawks — was hit by a pitch, Metz launched another ball out of Springs Brooks Stadium for his third homer in as many at-bats, this time with a monster shot to left-center field. Duke would add three more in the inning to wrap up the victory via two doubles and some small ball, but the highlight of the seventh was all Metz.
“It’s unbelievable. It kind of defies logic a little bit,” Pollard said when asked about Metz’s otherworldly performance. “He’s an exceptionally tough person, and we felt like if there was anybody on our team that was tough enough to slap on a brace after what happened last Tuesday and still give it a shot to play [it was him].”
Metz’s day was the first three-home run game for the Blue Devils since RJ Schreck exploded for three big flies and five RBIs to power Duke beyond Wright State in an elimination game in the 2021 NCAA tournament. Three homers is tied for the program-record.
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