Stranded runners, early deficit cost No. 6 Duke baseball in home upset by William & Mary

Kyle Johnson slides onto the base during Duke's loss to William and Mary.
Kyle Johnson slides onto the base during Duke's loss to William and Mary.

After a 4-0 week, the Tribe stabbed Duke while it was riding high.

In its most recent midweek bout with CAA foe William & Mary, No. 6 Duke stumbled, falling 4-2 in a game where the Blue Devils simply could not break through on offense despite having countless opportunities throughout the contest. 

“I think we spotted them a few runs early and our bullpen did a great job of putting up a bunch of zeros over the back half of the game,” said head coach Chris Pollard. “I think they had one hit after the third inning and we just left a small village on the bases.”

Nate Knowles has been one of the more reliable midweek starters in the nation during his time at William & Mary, ranking third in the nation with 17 starts last season and entering Tuesday night’s contest sporting an impressive 1.60 ERA. The junior did his job yet again Tuesday evening, stifling the dynamic Duke offense and holding it to two hits through four innings, both of which came from the first two batters of the game. 

As the Blue Devils (24-9, 9-6 in the ACC) continue to fiddle with their pitching rotation, graduate transfer Tim Noone returned to his early season role as the midweek starter for Pollard’s squad. 

The Tribe (23-10) came to play early, as leadoff man Jerry Barnes III roped the second pitch of the contest all the way to the left-field wall, putting Duke in the danger zone right away. But from there, Noone locked in, inducing a groundout that, sandwiched by two strikeouts, allowed Duke to strand Barnes. 

The Blue Devils came out scorching in their first chance at the plate of the contest, as the first three batters all reached base before Logan Bravo skied a sacrifice fly that the wind barely kept in the yard to give Duke a 1-0 lead. However, a bad read on a fly ball from Ben Miller allowed the Tribe to pull off a double play to stop the bleeding. 

That missed opportunity came back to bite the Blue Devils quickly, as Noone issued a walk and a single that ended up leading to a three-run bomb, putting Duke down in the top of the second and chasing Noone out of the game. 

The fireworks kept popping in the top of the third for William & Mary, as right fielder Henry Jackson cranked one into the trees out in left field to extend the visitors’ lead to three. 

Duke once again found some juice at the top of the order, as Miller was hit by a pitch that forced him to leave the game and AJ Gracia reached base on an error after laying down a bunt. However, a Bravo strikeout and a Chase Krewson warning track shot kept the deficit at three heading into the fourth inning. 

The middle innings were somewhat of a slog for both squads, as neither team could muster any offense in the fourth and fifth frames, with Duke still looking for its first hit in roughly an hour and a half. 

That hit finally came in the bottom of the sixth. After two walks from Gracia and Alex Stone, Wallace Clark delivered, converting a hit-and-run that allowed the Blue Devils to plate their second run of the game before Devin Obee struck out to end the inning. 

Duke continued to show some signs of life after the seventh-inning stretch, as an outstanding double play from Kyle Johnson to end the top of the frame seemed to give momentum. Johnson reached base via walk and Zac Morris followed it up with a single, putting Pollard’s team within striking distance. However, Tribe hurler Mark Hindy shut the door, picking up two strikeouts and a groundout to keep the game at 4-2. 

“He made a great play, not only the throw, but he got a great jump on that ball,” Pollard said of Johnson’s play. “When it first came off the bat, I thought that ball might be a hit but he got a terrific jump on it and threw a laser to first base.”

Krewson got the party started in the bottom of the eighth by dropping a bloop single to left and advancing to second on an error. Back-to-back walks after a Stone strikeout set up Johnson with the bases loaded and one out, but the freshman went down looking and Morris flew out to the wall to stifle Duke once again. 

 “We hit three balls right to the wall, we hit one right to the wall with the bases loaded, we hit one to the wall with two on and then Morris’ ball was crushed and it happened to be right at him, so that's the sport,” Pollard said.

Macon Winslow entered the contest to begin the final frame, and the freshman beat out an infield single to start Duke’s last chance at a comeback victory. A ground out from Gracia that seemed to be a double-play ball ended up being a throwing error at first to keep the hope alive, but a Bravo strikeout and a Krewson groundout completed the upset for the Tribe. 

Up next, Duke will travel up to Pittsburgh for a weekend series with the Panthers. 


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