No. 9 Duke baseball drops second consecutive ACC series on the road to Georgia Tech

Senior catcher Alex Stone throws the ball back to the pitcher.
Senior catcher Alex Stone throws the ball back to the pitcher.

It has been a grueling run for the Blue Devils as of late. 

Coming off an important midweek victory against No. 6 East Carolina, No. 9 Duke looked to continue its momentum against a punchy Georgia Tech squad. However, in a hectic series that saw massive back-and-forth swings, it was ultimately the home team that took an 8-6 finale and the series victory in Atlanta Sunday. 

Freshman starter Tate McKee threw over six great innings for the Yellow Jackets and gave up just one run, but he found himself in trouble in the top of the seventh. After allowing runners to reach second and third, he was pulled before graduate second baseman Zac Morris smashed one over the wall to tie the game up at four. 

A double from right fielder AJ Gracia put another runner in scoring position for senior catcher Alex Stone. The slugger hit his third homer of the weekend to give the Blue Devils (34-16, 15-12 in the ACC) a two-run advantage. After an uncharacteristically slow start to the season, Stone is now hitting .314.

But in the bottom of the inning, Georgia Tech (30-19, 14-13) pushed back. 

To get things started, the Yellow Jackets loaded up the bases with no outs before a sacrifice fly scored a run. After that, it was senior Cam Jones who lifted a single into left field and scored two more. Another RBI single doubled the lead, and the inning finished 8-6 in favor of the hosts. The margin could have expanded even further, but an excellent throw from left fielder Chase Krewson managed to limit the damage. 

Despite attempts in the final two innings, head coach Chris Pollard's squad was never able to close the margin again. So after a weekend of comebacks and rallies, it was Duke that got the short end of the stick in the last game. 

The squad from Durham looked to strike early Sunday, loading the bases in the first inning off a ground-rule double from Stone sandwiched between a pair of walks. However, it was the home team who got things going in the bottom of the second inning, putting runners on first and second before scoring the latter on a lined double into left field. Starting pitcher Andrew Healy managed to avoid any further damage early, striking out catcher Vahn Lackey to end the inning. 

After that, it was a sequence of scoreless innings for both squads. Healy continued to pitch well despite the single run given up in the second, and first baseman Logan Bravo made an impressive reaction play to snag a hard-hit ground ball to end the third frame with the score unchanged. From there, it was junior Fran Oschell III who took the mound, striking out a batter and forcing two more easy outs to make quick work of the fourth. 

Stone’s hit remained the only one of the game for the Blue Devils until the top of the fifth inning, when graduate transfer Harrison Rodgers opened up the scoring for Duke. He smashed a line drive into center field, where some sloppy fielding gave him the RBI triple and brought home freshman Kyle Johnson. 

The Yellow Jackets turned things around fast, as three consecutive singles off sophomore Gabriel Nard scored Lackey and put runners on first and second. Despite that, a diving catch by shortstop Wallace Clark and a flyout to center field helped graduate Tim Noone end the inning and strand the two runners. 

The eighth inning, despite seeing two Blue Devils on base, finished scoreless. Stone hit a single to keep the hope alive in the final frame, but a flyout at the warning track ended Duke’s rally hopes. 

Earlier in the weekend, it was the Blue Devils who took Saturday’s game 14-10, as Gracia set the freshman home run record and pitcher Charlie Belenson struck out five of six in the last two frames to take the win. On Friday, Georgia Tech jumped out to a lead in the fifth inning that Duke never managed to come back from.

The action-packed weekend closed in favor of the home team, and now the Blue Devils must look ahead to a challenging end to the regular season. They will face the College of Charleston in the midweek before taking on No. 11 North Carolina. From there, it will be off to the postseason for a promising Duke squad. 

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