No. 16 Duke baseball takes early lead, uses pitching depth to take down Indiana for first win of season

Jonathan Santucci stands at the mound during Duke's win against Indiana.
Jonathan Santucci stands at the mound during Duke's win against Indiana.

Baseball is back, and it began with a nice win at the beach for the Blue Devils. 

In a high-profile opening tilt with Big Ten contender Indiana to kick off the 2024 college baseball season, No. 16 Duke had early returns on its offseason promise, taking down the Hoosiers 6-3 in the first game of the Baseball at the Beach event in Conway, S.C., behind an excellent day from the staff and some high-flying offense. 

“It was a really good college baseball game against two good teams,” said head coach Chris Pollard postgame. “For me it felt like one of the best head-to-head matchups on an opening day that I can remember for our Duke club in a really long time. It could have easily been a two and three seed in a regional somewhere. They have a really nice club that is very dynamic.” 

Duke fans have long awaited the return of ace Jonathan Santucci to the mound after a season-ending elbow injury in 2023, and the junior delivered in his first outing of the new campaign. The head of the Duke staff seemed to pick up right where he left off last season and looked every bit like the All-American he was projected to be in the preseason, tossing five scoreless innings while tallying seven strikeouts. 

Outside of his excellent performance on the mound, Pollard praised Santucci’s “emotional maturity” after he walked the first batter of the game on four pitches.

After a pitcher’s duel from Indiana starter Brayden Risedorph and Santucci, Duke (1-0) finally struck gold in the top of the fifth. Highly touted freshman Kyle Johnson provided the first hit of the day for Pollard’s squad as he pushed a double down the left-field line with two outs, and Oklahoma transfer Wallace Clark matched him one at-bat later, with his shot going to right-center to plate the first run of the game. 

Indiana (0-1) looked primed to punch right back after the early strike from Clark, as Santucci began to lose control and allowed two consecutive runners to reach with one out. But on what turned out to be his last pitch before exiting the game, the Leominster, Mass., native forced third baseman Josh Pyne into a double play that allowed sophomore Owen Proksch to enter with a one run lead. 

"I thought we played very well. We played a clean game defensively and I thought Santucci's maturity in the first was really big for us,” Pollard said. “He comes out amped up and has the four-pitch walk and showed great maturity and composure to settle in and give us a great start after that. He gets himself off the field there in the fifth. That was his last batter anyway, so he goes out and gets the double play to get off the field.”

Pollard has made it a priority to target graduate transfers as a primary way to build out the roster, and this strategy paid major dividends in the first contest of the year. First baseman Logan Bravo came down to Durham after spending his undergraduate years at Harvard, and he delivered in his first game wearing new threads, going 3-of-5 and combining with Alex Stone for back-to-back bombs in the sixth. 

The Indiana effort was led by Tyler Cerny, who made the transition to shortstop from second base this season. The sophomore was excellent in all aspects of the game, making multiple impressive stops in the field and crushing a two-run homer that put the Hoosiers down one heading into the final third of the game. 

In the top of the seventh, the Blue Devils threatened instantly, with Ryan Kraft hitting Clark with a pitch to start off the inning that continued with Duke leadoff man Zac Morris tagging him for a double down the right-field line, putting the Hoosiers in a jam with no outs in the inning. 

After a Ben Miller flyout, Stone and Bravo were able to record their second RBIs of the day, hitting a sac fly to deep right field to score Clark and ripping a single down the left-field line to bring in Morris, respectively, to give the visitors a 5-2 lead. After a failed pickoff attempt that rolled to deep right field and an AJ Gracia walk, Devin Obee had a chance to extend the margin, but Indiana left fielder Devin Taylor made a spectacular diving grab to stop the bleeding. 

The Hoosiers refused to go away after falling behind three runs, as Proksch continued to get lit up, this time as Carter Mathison crushed a homer to right field and the next two batters singled, forcing Pollard to go to Charlie Beilenson to try and keep the Indiana offense at bay. After falling behind 3-0 to clean-up man Brock Tibbitts, the Stopper of the Year watchlist nominee proved why he earned that preseason honor, throwing three straight strikeouts to retire Tibbitts then silencing the red-hot Cerny with a slider to end the inning. 

To add some insurance, Tyler Albright cashed in his first hit of the year at an excellent time, hitting a leadoff homer to begin the penultimate inning and put Duke up 6-3. Beilenson, who set the Duke record for most appearances in a season with 39 last year, continued to shut it down in the eighth, picking up two strikeouts to head to the ninth. 

After runs in the previous four innings, the ninth was relatively boring, with Duke and Indiana both going down without any offensive production and Beilenson finishing off the eight-out save. 

Duke’s run in this event continues Saturday morning against George Mason and concludes Sunday with a highly anticipated matchup against No. 18 Coastal Carolina. 


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