Duke's 40-win season comes to end with 4-3 loss against Oklahoma in NCAA Regionals

The Blue Devils finished the 2024 season with 40 wins, the second most in program history.
The Blue Devils finished the 2024 season with 40 wins, the second most in program history.

NORMAN, Okla.,— The deeper into the postseason a team goes, the thinner the margins become. 

Duke will likely be pointing to just a couple big missed opportunities in its final game as the reason its season ended earlier than it would have liked.

The Blue Devils managed just 10 runs across three games in the Norman Regional, finishing 1-2 and bowing out of the NCAA tournament early. The final act was a 4-3 loss to Oklahoma, the host team. Sooners starting pitcher Grant Stevens threw 104 pitches in seven innings of one-run ball to propel his squad to the Regional final against UConn.

“That was a heck of a college baseball game,” head coach Chris Pollard said. “It was an intense atmosphere, and both teams made some great defensive plays and came up with some big swings. And that's kind of what you'd expect out of two really good teams in an elimination game environment.”

Oklahoma entered the bottom of the seventh with a 3-1 lead it had held for five innings, and it added some much-needed insurance. Facing Duke’s star closer Charlie Beilenson, two one-out singles put runners on the corners for the home team. First-team All-Big 12 third baseman Michael Snyder then stepped to the plate and roped a single to left field to score Easton Carmichael and put the Sooners up by three with two innings to go.

The run wound up being a crucial one, as freshman right fielder AJ Gracia launched a two-run homer over the right-center field wall to cut the deficit down to one. The blast gave the Blue Devils (40-20) new life, but a subsequent single from senior Alex Stone ultimately went to waste as two consecutive lineouts ended the eighth.

Right-hander Scott Medler entered to close out the victory for Oklahoma (39-20) and set the Duke hitters down in order to end it.

“I'm just really proud of our club. I'm proud of our team,” Pollard said. “These guys have had an unbelievable year, they'll come back to campus from now on with a lot of pride knowing that they were one of the best teams in the history of this program.”

A two-hour weather delay before the game didn’t seem to deter the Blue Devils’ bats much, as they went to work immediately. A leadoff double from graduate second baseman Zac Morris got the party started, and two batters later Gracia smoked a ground ball through the right side with enough velocity to get through the Sooners’ shift. The rookie’s knock gave Duke the first-inning 1-0 lead.

“Every year I've been here, the talent of the freshman class has just gotten better and better,” senior infielder Chad Knight said. “So I know the future of Duke baseball is really, really bright.” 

However, two walks issued by starting pitcher Fran Oschell III gave the Sooners life in the second. Free bases have been the Preseason All-American’s kryptonite all season, and the Sooners took advantage of the junior righty.

First baseman Rocco Garza-Gongora knotted it up at one with a single up the middle before designated hitter Jason Walk tripled to the deepest part of the park in right-center field to put the Sooners up 3-1. It looked like Oklahoma might add two more as a towering shot carried out to right field, but Gracia timed his leap perfectly to rob a home run and end the inning.

The Blue Devils threatened to punch right back in the heavyweight bout as another base hit from Morris put one on for Gracia once again. The Monroe, N.J., native hit a ball to left that looked like it would either leave the yard or bounce off the wall, but Sooner left fielder Kendall Pettis appeared out of nowhere to make a leaping grab as he collided with the wall.

The trend of outstanding defensive plays continued in the fourth. After working out of sophomore Owen Proksch’s jam in the third, junior right-hander Jimmy Romano came back out for another inning of work. Two hit-by-pitches and a fielder's choice put runners on the corners, but left fielder Chase Krewson fired a fly ball home to catch a tagging runner and end the inning. The double play was the freshman’s third outfield assist of the postseason.

“It’s really bright,” Pollard said when asked about the future of the program. “Look at guys like AJ Gracia, Kyle Johnson, Chase Krewson, Macon Winslow. We had three freshmen on the field for most of the year and we return a lot of really good pieces next year. This club's going to be scary good again.”

Duke put runners in scoring position in the third and fifth innings, but otherwise struggled to get in a groove and put a rally together against Oklahoma starter Grant Stevens, who stymied the talented Blue Devil lineup through the seventh inning.

“He just throws the kitchen sink at you,” Pollard said. “There’s not one pitch that's a plus pitch, but he's a really competitive guy. He changes his tempos, he's hard to run on so you can't really get anything going in the run game… He's just a veteran pitch ability guy that did a good job of changing speeds today.”

The loss ended Duke’s season in disappointing fashion. The Blue Devils won 40 games for the second time in program history and took home the ACC tournament title, but ultimately fell short of the goal Pollard has made clear throughout the season: to make a deep NCAA tournament run and reach Omaha and the College World Series for the first time since 1961.

“We’ve talked about the last big hurdle for us,” Pollard said. “We've obviously got a door to knock down and that's Omaha. We've been really close three times out of the last five NCAA tournaments, and we're just gonna keep showing up. We're gonna keep showing up year after year, and one of these times we're going to knock that door down.”


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