Healy, crunch-time batting star as No. 11 Duke baseball topples No. 8 Virginia for second ACC series win of season

Macon Winslow swings during Duke's midweek win against Campbell.
Macon Winslow swings during Duke's midweek win against Campbell.

“I’m so proud of it. Almost emotional about it.”

That is what head coach Chris Pollard said about the environment at Jack Coombs Field for No. 11 Duke’s 7-4 rubber match win against No. 8 Virginia Saturday afternoon. The Blue Devils took down another top-10 opponent in front of a packed crowd, something Pollard and his program have been working toward for years.

There are stadium renovation plans set to begin as soon as Duke’s season concludes to continue building toward those dreams, but for now, the Blue Devils had to focus on the task at hand: defeating the Cavaliers and snagging a series win for the first time since beating then-No. 1 Wake Forest three weeks earlier.

The Blue Devils were able to get the job done, emerging victorious behind a solid start from sophomore Andrew Healy and timely hitting when they needed it most. 

"I thought it was two of the best teams in the country going head-to-head,” Pollard said. “That’s about as even as you can play a series.”

Just as he had in the third inning, lead-off hitter Griff O’Ferrall doubled to left field to start a rally for the Cavaliers in the seventh, eventually coming around to score. This time it was Henry Ford who notched the run-scoring double, giving Virginia a 3-2 advantage and putting Duke (20-8, 6-6 in the ACC) on the precipice of a third-straight series loss if it failed to respond.

The Blue Devils did more than respond. A relentless approach at the plate led to a five-run inning for Duke, with graduate student Chad Knight and freshman Macon Winslow — both of whom entered the game off of the bench — each tallying a two-run single to break the game open. By the time the inning came to an end, the Blue Devils had amassed five hits, two walks, and a 7-3 lead with two innings to go.

“He's provided unbelievable leadership for us all year,” Pollard said of Knight, whose hit put the Blue Devils in front. “He's been locked in on every pitch. And so it was really cool and really special for me to be able to see him step in on that moment and have that big at-bat.”

Graduate student and closer Charlie Beilenson entered to throw the final two innings for Duke. The Los Angeles native surrendered a run in the eight but otherwise shut down the Cavaliers (22-6, 7-5), giving the Blue Devils the win and, with it, the ranked series victory.

The Blue Devils’ first offensive noise of the game was well-timed, to say the least. After giving up a run in consecutive innings, Duke needed to respond to swing the momentum in the bottom of the fourth.

Cavalier second baseman Henry Godbout successfully fielded a dribbler up the middle, but his difficult throw to first was up the line, allowing Ben Miller to reach safely for the first Blue Devil hit of the contest. Two batters later, graduate first baseman Logan Bravo sneaked a ball over the left-center-field wall and the outstretched glove of Harrison Didawick, tying the game at two.

“I thought our team did a great job of having an answer,” Pollard said. “They get the lead in the third, we have the answer in the fourth. They get the lead again in the seventh, and we had an answer again.”

Neither side managed to put much together through the first two innings of the rubber match. In the first at-bat of the game, freshman left fielder Chase Krewson dashed to his right and made a diving play to prevent an O’Ferrall flare from hitting the turf, highlighting a number of stellar defensive stops that helped Healy and Cavalier starter Kevin Jaxel keep the game scoreless.

The Cavaliers broke through first, as O'Ferrall and Casey Saucke traded places with doubles in the top of the third frame to knock in the game’s first tally. Healy was able to strand the runner, though, freezing the next batter with a strong off-speed pitch.

The following inning played out similarly for Virginia. A single and a stolen base put Jacob Ference on second base, and Godbout lined a one-out RBI-single to center. Healy was able to limit the damage once again, though, notching two outs to finish his outing on a positive note.

“I thought on short rest, it was a really good start,” Pollard said. “He's a guy that usually likes to have that full week of recovery, so to have that stuff on one day less rest … I thought he gave us what we needed.”

Freshman two-way player Kyle Johnson made his first appearance for the Blue Devils since the Wake Forest series — a three-week injury absence for the Leesburg, Va., native. Johnson worked around some traffic to record a clean fifth inning before handing the ball to sophomore James Tallon for the sixth. The return of Johnson — who can pitch, man the outfield and make an impact at the plate — is a welcome one for Duke.

Outstanding defense from shortstop Wallace Clark, including a spectacular diving stop up the middle, helped Tallon keep the momentum going with a scoreless frame of his own to keep the score 2-2. The Blue Devils entered the weekend second in the nation in fielding percentage at .984, only set to improve after an error-free weekend.

“Bravo has been so good over there at first base,” Pollard said. “Our guys have this kind of comfort level that they just feel like, if they just put the ball over there anywhere around him he's going to come up with it.”

Duke used another strong start from junior ace Jonathan Santucci and a middle-innings offensive outburst to take the opener Thursday night. The win moves the Blue Devils to 6-1 in games to open a series, with the sole loss coming at the hands of N.C. State. Virginia bounced back emphatically, jumping on junior Ryan Higgins early on to take control of Friday’s contest en route to a 7-3 victory to set up the winner-take-all game.

The Blue Devils will leave the state of North Carolina for the first time since opening weekend Tuesday as they travel to play Liberty.


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