Duke loses first game of NCAA Regional to UConn, scores just one run

Freshman AJ Gracia drove in the lone run for the Blue Devils against UConn.
Freshman AJ Gracia drove in the lone run for the Blue Devils against UConn.

“Baseball is a really funny game,” third baseman Ben Miller said after Duke’s ACC championship game victory against Florida State. “Once you think you’ve got it figured out, you know, it humbles you pretty quickly.”

Less than a week later, those words are especially fitting for the Blue Devils.

After rolling through the ACC tournament, No. 2-seed Duke dropped its first game of the Norman Regional 4-1 to No. 3-seed UConn. Each squad notched a run in the opening frame, and ultimately two runs in the sixth for the Huskies proved to be the difference. Despite six different batters recording a hit, the Blue Devils never managed to put together a sustained rally, scoring just one run for the first time since an April 20 defeat to Virginia Tech.

“First and foremost, UConn deserves a lot of credit,” head coach Chris Pollard said. “They played really, really well. They made some terrific plays defensively that took hits away from us, and after the first inning, they pitched great.” 

Still working back from injury, sophomore Andrew Healy worked four innings of one-run ball before turning the ball over to right-hander Ryan Higgins. The junior worked a clean fifth inning but ran into trouble in the sixth, walking the first two batters and throwing away a pickoff attempt to first. With runners on the corners, Pollard turned back to the bullpen and sophomore righty Gabriel Nard.

The Shaker Heights, Ohio, native worked two quick outs with a strikeout and a sacrifice bunt, but ultimately couldn’t escape unscathed as UConn catcher Ryan Hyde singled over second baseman Zac Morris’ head to right-center to score both baserunners and give the Huskies a 3-1 lead in the sixth.

“We had a chance to get off the field there in the sixth and [UConn] came up with a big base hit to score those two runs, and that's the game,” Pollard said. “That's baseball.” 

The Huskies were poised to add to their lead in the top of the seventh. Two singles from shortstop Paul Tammaro and left fielder Korey Morton put the pressure on Nard, but a full-count strikeout allowed him to escape the inning with a crucial zero on the board.

The insurance run came two innings later, though, as a Tyler Minick solo shot cleared the batter's eye in dead-center field. The homer made it 4-1 and secured the victory for UConn.

The Huskies (33-23) took no time heating up in the first, immediately putting runners on base via a double and a hit-by-pitch. After working a strikeout, Healy left a fastball at the top of the zone, resulting in a double to left-center field off the bat of Korey Morton. One run came around to score to give UConn the early lead, but a nice relay play from freshman left fielder Chase Krewson through shortstop Wallace Clark allowed the Blue Devils to tag Paul Tammaro out at the plate.

In their first chance at the plate, the Duke bats responded. Morris worked a seven-pitch leadoff walk and moved to second on a groundout, setting the table for freshman right fielder AJ Gracia. The rookie lined a single back up the middle to tie the contest back up.

"I thought we had [Ian] Cooke on the ropes in the first,” Pollard said. “We had an RBI hit, he had given up two free bases, and we pushed his pitch count up over 30 pitches. Credit to he and [Braden Quinn], they settled in and the next eight innings, they didn't give us a free base.” 

After a high-action opening frame, the next four innings were relatively quiet, as highlight plays in the field from both sides helped keep the score knotted at 1-1. In the third, a diving play from Tammaro at shortstop robbed a Miller liner from reaching left field. Then in the next frame, Morris moved to his right to field a backhand grounder before flipping it with his glove to Clark on second base who finished the double play to end the inning.

The Blue Devils threatened in the home half of the fifth, as singles to right field from Clark and Morris put two on with one out and the heart of the order due up. However, a weak flyout to center from Miller and a strikeout of Gracia — ending with a called strike three that he thought was inside — ended the rally before it could ever really get started.

A number of late-innings rally attempts all fell short for Duke. Despite knocking eight hits and hitting a number of other balls hard, the Blue Devils never managed to put together the type of big inning that got them to this point. 

“There’s not a ton that we're really changing,” senior catcher Alex Stone said when asked about the team’s mindset when balls aren’t finding gaps. “It's game 60 or something like that, so you know the formula. Our whole thing this year has been ‘staying on black’ so you're staying with what you're doing and just knowing it’s gonna work eventually.” 

With the loss, Duke will head to the elimination side of the bracket to take on the loser of Oklahoma and Oral Roberts 3 p.m. Saturday.


Share and discuss “Duke loses first game of NCAA Regional to UConn, scores just one run” on social media.