Duke baseball continues its road success, picks up third top-10 away victory against East Carolina

Graduate second baseman Zac Morris runs down the line after making contact against East Carolina.
Graduate second baseman Zac Morris runs down the line after making contact against East Carolina.

GREENVILLE, N.C.—The Blue Devils are coming back to Durham with major wind in their sails. 

In its last road midweek matchup of the season, No. 9 Duke had its toughest Tuesday test yet, traveling down the road to Greenville, N.C., to take on No. 6 East Carolina. And in a game that will go a long way come Selection Sunday, the Blue Devils handled the Pirates, clinching a 5-2 victory to give the program its first win in Greenville since 1996. 

“It was a really good college baseball game. [I’m] Proud of our club,” head coach Chris Pollard said. “I thought we were really tough in a great college baseball environment. It’s incredible what East Carolina does to put this kind of atmosphere in here on a Tuesday night, it's a super regional type of atmosphere.”

The death knell came in the ninth, as junior shortstop Wallace Clark dropped a double into the left-field corner to give Duke (33-14, 14-10 in the  ACC) a 5-1 lead and elite closer Charlie Beilenson plenty of runway to work with. 

Despite giving up a leadoff double and his first run since March 30, the Brown transfer did what he does best, getting the Blue Devils out of the game with a save.

Just before Beilenson took the mound, tensions nearly boiled over at Clark LeClair Stadium. Sophomore Gabe Nard forced a groundout after some initial struggles, but Pollard furiously argued that it should have instead been a pitch clock violation. This led to a chorus of boos from the home crowd as Pollard called in Beilenson. 

“There's no hiding that there's a lot of implications because there's only one time we meet them all year. So important head to head, it's an important road game,” Pollard said.

Duke has touted one of the best top of the orders in college baseball all season, and that trend continued from the opening minutes of the contest. As just the second batter of the game, graduate third baseman Ben Miller hit his team-high 13th bomb out into the Jungle. 

The early blemish seemed to fluster Pirate starter Erik Ritchie, who pegged freshman AJ Gracia and gave up a bloop single to senior Alex Stone that kept the threat level high early. One batter later, graduate first baseman Logan Bravo legged out an infield single to extend the Duke lead to two, but back-to-back groundouts stopped the bleeding there.

After cruising through the first, Blue Devil starter Andrew Healy found himself in some trouble of his own in the bottom of the second. The sophomore issued a four-pitch walk to begin the frame, and an errant throw on a steal attempt from Stone allowed Pirate runner Jacob Starling to advance to third. Luckily for Duke, a strikeout and a flyout to shortstop gave Healy two outs before he gave way to reliever Ryan Higgins, who got a strikeout to end the inning. 

After East Carolina (37-10) center fielder Ryley Johnson made a highlight grab to rob junior Devin Obee of a home run in the top of the fourth, freshman Kyle Johnson avenged the missed opportunity, crushing a ball to right field to put the away team up 3-0. Two pitches later, graduate second baseman Zac Morris tacked on, going yard to left to make the lead four. The Blue Devils tried to make the fourth even more of a crooked number, but the Pirates again mitigated the damage.

Pollard elected to trot out Fran Oschell for the fourth, and the junior mowed down East Carolina’s best two hitters before giving up the first hit of the game and walking a batter to put two runners on. However, Morris made a spectacular diving grab to end the frame.  

David Boisvert was next up in what formed into a bullpen game, and the junior struggled. After a pop fly dropped in no-man’s land out in center, a single was laced into right center to put runners on the corners and force Boisvert to exit for sophomore James Tallon. 

The lefty was able to get the second out of the inning, but not without allowing the runner on third to come in to score, cutting the lead to three on a fielder’s choice. The Arlington, Va., continued to do his job from there, inducing a groundout to keep the Pirates at one run and end the frame. 

“Really proud of our pitching staff. We didn't want to extend anybody past the point where they couldn’t be able to come back and pitch Friday, so we knew we were gonna throw a lot of guys and not extend anybody past 40 pitches,” Pollard said.

Duke continued to threaten in the sixth, as a Miller walk and a single that Bravo looped into left field provided another scoring chance. But once again, East Carolina stopped the bleeding, as freshman Chase Krewson grounded out to strand both runners. 

Tallon allowed two base runners via a walk in the bottom half of the sixth, but the southpaw once again escaped, keeping the game 4-1 heading into the final third. 

Obee provided some sparks to start the seventh, ripping a double down the left-field line to give the Blue Devils a runner in scoring position that moved to third after a bunt from Clark. The runners in scoring position woes continued from there though, as Johnson struck out and Morris flew out to put up another zero on the scoreboard. Despite the win, Duke left 15 runners on base Tuesday.

Up next, the Blue Devils will travel to Atlanta to take on Georgia Tech in another key three-game series.


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