'The most complete performance we've had': Duke baseball routs NC State, advances to ACC tournament semifinals

Andrew Healy pitched five scoreless innings against the Wolfpack.
Andrew Healy pitched five scoreless innings against the Wolfpack.

Currently sitting on the cusp of hosting a NCAA Regional, the Blue Devils made a statement Thursday.

No. 6-seed Duke completely controlled both sides of the ball against No. 3-seed N.C. State, hitting four home runs while allowing just five hits en route to a 8-1 victory. The Blue Devils were led by sophomore Andrew Healy on the mound, who dazzled in his five innings of work, and a grand slam at the plate from graduate second baseman Zac Morris. With the win, Duke advances to the semifinals of ACC tournament against No. 11-seed Miami.

“I thought [Thursday] was the most complete performance that we've had all year,” head coach Chris Pollard said after the game. “...And listen, we beat a tremendous team. I can't say enough good things about N.C. State and their club.”

Freshman left fielder Chase Krewson continued his strong ACC tournament in the fifth, breaking a scoreless tie with a solo home run that carried over the fence in left. His big fly woke up the rest of Duke’s bats, as three consecutive Blue Devils reached base to put ducks on the pond for the top of the lineup.

That allowed another red-hot Duke bat to come up, graduate second baseman Zac Morris. The leadoff hitter, fresh off a two-home run performance against Virginia Tech Tuesday, turned on a hanging curveball. As soon as he made contact, there was little doubt his shot would leave the ballpark, and by the time it landed it had traveled 455 feet.

Freshman AJ Gracia put the nail in the coffin for Wolfpack starter Sam Highfill, as he got a hold of one and took it the other way for the Blue Devils’ third home run of the inning. Just like that, Duke led 6-0.

A pitching change did little to slow down the Blue Devils, however, as junior center fielder Devin Obee got absolutely all of a slider from N.C. State reliever Jacob Dudan for a two-run shot in the sixth. Obee’s exclamation mark homer punctuated a dream day for the lineup, as Duke found solid contact up and down the order.

“I told our guys Sunday when we met as a team, ‘Look, don't don't go down to Charlotte and try to play to position yourself to improve where you are in terms of an NCAA tournament. Go to Charlotte to win a championship,’” Pollard said of his team’s mindset in the ACC tournament.

From there, the Blue Devils’ talented bullpen took the wheel with plenty of room to work with. Sophomore James Tallon was first up, posting two scoreless innings — including a key strikeout with a runner on third base. Graduate student Tim Noone followed Tallon up, and while the Babson transfer gave up a run, he closed things out and sealed the win.

Healy, who missed time earlier this season battling injury, continued his resurgence early. The 6-foot-6 southpaw beared down on a N.C. State lineup that piled on 19 runs on 20 hits in its first game against Virginia Tech, retiring the first nine Wolfpack batters he faced. By the time his outing ended, Healy had thrown five scoreless innings while facing the minimum number of batters.

“That was his best start of the year, five innings of shutout baseball. Tonight it was all four pitches working, he threw four pitches for strikes, he got swing and miss on four pitches,” Pollard said of Healy’s outing. “The cool thing for me [is] when you see him out there healthy, he's also one of our best competitors… That can be really big for us next week and beyond.”

However, the Blue Devils were not able to break through initially, as Highfill was similarly dominant early on. Before fans were fully settled in their seats, the first three innings had passed without either pitcher throwing more than 35 pitches. Even when both teams put runners on base in the fourth and finally applied some pressure, Healy and Highfill got out of their respective jams.

Neither hurler was without some help from his defense, though, as both sides flashed some leather in the third. In the top half of the inning, center fielder Eli Serrano III made a great break to snag a Kyle Johnson drive near the wall. Then in the bottom half, Krewson tracked down a sinking line drive to make the final out of the frame.

Thanks to the victory, Duke will face Miami in the semifinals Saturday. The two teams met earlier this year in Durham, and the Blue Devils swept the Hurricanes in a trio of one-run games.

Dom Fenoglio | Sports Managing Editor

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


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