No. 13 Duke baseball dominates all weekend, sweeps Northwestern for best start to a season since 2008

Josh Allen winds up a pitch during his highly effective relief effort against Northwestern.
Josh Allen winds up a pitch during his highly effective relief effort against Northwestern.

While the Blue Devils struck early all week, the Wildcats never managed to claw back.

No. 13 Duke showed off a little bit of everything en route to its series sweep of Northwestern in its first home series of the season. The Blue Devils edged out a 2-0 shutout win in Friday’s pitcher’s duel before the bats came alive to win 8-2 Saturday and 20-9 Sunday. With the sweep, Duke advances to 7-0 on the season, its best start since 2008.

“Guys really feel that support from their classmates, from their fellow students, and from the Duke community,” head coach Chris Pollard said of the team playing its first home series of the season. “Our guys are comfortable in this ballpark … the comfortability shows.” 

The Blue Devils (7-0) will play the entirety of their home schedule at Jack Coombs Field this year after historically splitting between the on-campus venue and the Durham Bulls Athletic Park.

The story on the diamond for the weekend was Duke's ability to find outs at critical junctures. The Wildcats (1-5) left a total of 31 base runners stranded to the Blue Devils’ 17. Duke’s pitching staff across the board showed a high-level of mental toughness in fighting for every out in order to work out of tight spots. 

This toughness started with Jonathan Santucci’s Friday outing. The junior pitcher earned his second win of the season after recovering from an elbow injury incurred last March. Santucci posted six innings of work, giving up just five hits and zero earned runs. 

“The continued development of his slider has been a really big part of this as well,” Pollard said. Although the pitch was lethal last season, boasting a 50% whiff rate, the improvement was more than evident. 

The third inning saw the Leominster, Mass., native give up a walk and a single, placing runners on first and second with just one out. Santucci leaned into his breaking ball to get Owen McElfatrick swinging. Tony Livermore was next to the plate with two outs. Worked into a 2-2 count, the lefty had no chance touching Santucci’s slider as it broke away, far out of reach. Santucci’s fourth strikeout of the outing left two runners stranded to preserve the shutout. He was fired up.

“He’s strong as an ox and he’s put in a ton of time to really build up his body to handle the heavier workload,” Pollard said. “He’s really feeling great.” 

Santucci was supported by a first-inning 353-foot solo shot by Penn graduate transfer Ben Miller — who is off to a hot start, slugging .920 on the season — paired with an RBI single in the second inning from junior Wallace Clark.

Saturday saw the bats start to wake up. The Wildcats were first to strike as Bennett Markinson knocked an RBI single to bring in Tyler Ganus, who led off with a double. Duke, however, was quick to respond. The Blue Devils were all over Northwestern starting pitcher Matt McClure and reliever Luke Benneche. Headlined by an RBI triple from freshman Kyle Johnson, they batted through the order and put up five. 

Scoring was largely quiet the rest of the way through. Duke found one in the third, the product of a double from Macon Winslow, and two more in the sixth from Wallace Clark’s 405-foot bomb off the scoreboard and a sacrifice fly from senior captain Alex Stone. 

Meanwhile, the Wildcats never seemed to crack the Blue Devils’ pitching staff. Starting pitcher Andrew Healy gave up only four hits in his four innings on the bump with no earned runs. Pollard brought in Gabriel Nard, Edward Hart, Ryan Higgins and Tim Noone to combine for the remaining relief effort. They allowed just three hits and one earned run, closing out the game decisively.

Duke’s offense then went into Sunday’s game more than ramped up, posting its second 20-run performance on the season. The Blue Devils fought from behind in the second inning, driving in four largely from a bases-clearing fielding error on a single from Miller. In the fifth inning, the bats were relentless. Duke poured in eight runs, including Stone’s three-run bomb 403 feet into left-center. The offense continued to roll in the sixth inning as a sequence of drawn walks created enough traffic on the bases for another six runs to come in. 

Stone and junior Devin Obee were the names to remember from Sunday’s offensive explosion, both putting up three-hit outings while combining for seven RBIs.

Not to be missed in the high-volume offense was senior Josh Allen’s second-inning relief effort. Allen came in with the bases loaded and none out after early struggles from starter Aidan Weaver. The lefty was able to work his way out of the inning with minimal damage, allowing just one run to score on a groundout. Allen’s stop shifted the momentum back in the Blue Devils’ favor and gave the offense ample room to work throughout the remaining seven innings.

“We had some guys really step up in some big spots like Josh Allen today, and that’ll help us build depth heading into ACC play,” Pollard said. 

Allen was followed up by a lockdown relief effort from Johnson who sat down nine of the 10 batters he faced, including five strikeouts. His three innings of work were good to earn him the second win of his career.

Duke now looks toward Tuesday, when it will face Davidson at home in an effort to remain undefeated.


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