Stone's 2 home runs not enough as Duke baseball falls to Coastal Carolina in NCAA Regional

Junior Alex Stone blasted two home runs against the Chanticleers.
Junior Alex Stone blasted two home runs against the Chanticleers.

Despite winning their first two games without overexerting the pitching staff, the Blue Devils could not complete a perfect run in the regionals.

Had No. 2-seed Duke won Sunday, it would have advanced to the Super Regional, but a late surge allowed No. 1-seed Coastal Carolina to pull away and take the game 8-6, setting up a winner-take-all contest Monday. The Blue Devils answered the first punch in the mouth from the Chanticleers, but a two-home-run day from junior Alex Stone was not enough to equalize Coastal Carolina’s offense.

“Credit to Coastal Carolina for taking advantage of the fact that we didn't make some pitches there to get off the field. I thought our guys battled,” head coach Chris Pollard said after the game. “You know, we took some good swings off Schaffer, hit some balls hard, but at the same time, he pitched really, really well. Just a really good baseball game.”

While one play alone never decides the outcome of a game, a dropped pop fly in the seventh allowed the Chanticleers to pull away for good. After Owen Proksch gave up a single and a triple that gave Coastal Carolina a one-run lead, sophomore Derek Bender stepped up to the plate.

Bender, who leads the Chanticleers in home runs and RBIs, fouled off a 1-2 pitch down the third baseline. While freshman Andrew Fischer appeared to be close enough to make the play, Beilenson called him off, dropping the ball to extend the at-bat. Bender made them pay, sending the ball over the left field fence and giving Coastal Carolina an 8-5 advantage.

Stone provided a spark an inning later, hammering a home run of his own to left to bring Duke back within two. However, after two singles, junior Luke Storm could not come through with a runner in scoring position. The Blue Devils had one more chance in the ninth, but each of their top three batters in the lineup failed to reach base.

In fact, sophomore Alex Mooney, Fischer and junior Jay Beshears combined to hit 0-for-14 in the game. Without the top of the order getting on base, the lineup often appeared stagnant. On the other hand, Coastal Carolina’s top three went 4-for-11 with three runs scored. 

That being said, continued production from the bullpen kept the Blue Devils in the game. Aside from the three-run seventh, the bullpen combined for six innings and with just one run allowed. 

Most of the Chanticleers’ offense came in the first, when the lineup got to starting pitcher Jason White. Even after a lucky break when freshman Caden Bodine popped off the bag on a double and was called out, White hit two batters and loaded the bases for senior Graham Brown. The right fielder, who had already hit one grand slam in the regional, went deep again, opening an early 4-0 Coastal Carolina lead.

Duke immediately responded thanks to its own right fielder, graduate student Damon Lux. Stone led off the top of the second with a solo shot, and the Blue Devils loaded the bases thanks to two singles and a hit by pitch. Lux took the first pitch he saw over the fence for a grand slam of his own, and Duke retook momentum and the lead, 5-4.

“There was never a panic, even when we came over after the first inning. Guys had a peace of mind, ‘hey, we're gonna get back in this ballgame,’” Pollard said.

After that early explosion, Chanticleers’ pitcher Bryce Shaffer shut the Blue Devils down. Duke’s lineup totaled just one hit between the third and seventh innings, and the junior tallied nine straight outs.

Pollard and hitting coach Eric Tyler will certainly have plenty of notes for the team ahead of Monday’s deciding game, but the key to success is in Duke’s unconventional bullpen. Pollard still has plenty of arms rested enough to throw, but the difference between advancing to a Super Regional and ending the season will be in selecting the right pitchers for the right moments.

The Blue Devils are 9-1 when playing the same team after losing the day before. They will need one more win tomorrow.

“It was the easiest message in the postgame that I have ever had,” Pollard said. “All I had to tell our guys is, ‘Hey, if I told you in August, that you got one game to get to a Super Regional would you take it?’”


Dom Fenoglio | Sports Managing Editor

Dom Fenoglio is a Trinity sophomore and a sports managing editor of The Chronicle's 120th volume.

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