Duke keeps season alive with 6-2 victory, four-run sixth inning, against Oral Roberts

Senior catcher Alex Stone scored two runs for the Blue Devils Saturday against Oral Roberts.
Senior catcher Alex Stone scored two runs for the Blue Devils Saturday against Oral Roberts.

NORMAN, Okla.—After scoring 43 runs in four games in the ACC tournament, the Blue Devils found themselves in a second consecutive low-scoring NCAA tournament affair Saturday afternoon.

Fortunately for Duke, the bats finally came through and broke it open.

Facing elimination and the end of their season, the second-seeded Blue Devils gutted out a 6-2 victory against No. 4-seed Oral Roberts in their second game of the Norman Regional. A four-run sixth inning featuring three consecutive doubles and a homer off the bat of graduate transfer Jimmy Evans propelled Duke to the victory, as five different pitchers held the Golden Eagles to just five hits.

The win was the Blue Devils’ 40th of the season, second-most in program history. 

“We were two weeks away from opening day, and I didn't think we were very tough and I didn't think we were very competitive. I challenged our team that we would have to get better at both of those areas,” head coach Chris Pollard said after the win. “And now that's become a strength of this group.” 

Holding an uncomfortable one-run lead, Pollard's squad blew it open in the sixth inning. Just as he had in the fourth, senior catcher Alex Stone got the Duke rally started, this time with a double to left-center field. The captain put himself in prime position to extend the lead, with nobody out and the heart of the order due up.

Two batters later, freshman outfielder Chase Krewson flared a double down the left-field line that dropped just out of the reach of Sam Thompson, allowing Stone to score for the second time and giving the Blue Devils a 2-0 advantage. Playing in his home state, Oklahoma native Wallace Clark kept the double train moving with one of his own to left-center, scoring Krewson.

Then came the big blast. Making the first start of his Duke career, Evans lined a two-run homer over the right-field wall. The Tufts transfer — who entered the contest hitting .500 in just 12 at-bats — doubled his RBI tally for the season with just one swing and, more importantly, put the Blue Devils up 5-0.

“Whenever my name is called, I'm always ready,” Evans said. “Whether it's pinch hitting or today in the starting lineup, I'm always ready to go. And it was a great opportunity to help the team win. I’m just making the most of my opportunity.” 

“He's been such an unsung hero for this team,” Pollard added. “He's a tremendous source of energy. Our guys have so much respect for him.”

The Golden Eagles responded with their first run of the game in the bottom of the frame, as right fielder Kyle Booker muscled a towering solo shot to the grassy berm in right field. The blast made it 5-1, but freshman hurler Kyle Johnson limited the damage with a strikeout to move the contest to the seventh.

Entering the final innings and looking to close out the victory, center fielder Devin Obee added on in the eighth. After his at-bat was cut short due to Krewson being picked off to end the seventh, the ACC tournament MVP made the most of his fresh start, homering to opposite field to restore Duke’s five-run lead.

Graduate transfer Tim Noone manned the set-up role for Blue Devils, pitching the seventh and eighth and surrendering just one run — a home run to left field off the bat of leadoff hitter Alex Rodgers. Star closer Charlie Beilenson entered for the ninth and closed out the win.

Both squads threatened early on, but neither side could cash in on their respective opportunities with runners on base in the opening innings. First blood wasn’t drawn until the fourth, when Duke finally broke through.

Stone singled through the right side and moved to second on a swinging bunt, putting a runner in scoring position for Obee. With two outs, the junior lined an 0-2 breaking ball right back up the middle, allowing Stone to motor around to score the first run of the contest.

“He's such a steady leader for this group,” Pollard said of Stone’s ability to start rallies. “He doesn't get too high, he doesn't get too low. We talk in our program about being the same guy every day, and Stone embodies that as well as anybody in that locker room.”

Oral Roberts put baserunners on in each of the first four innings, but Johnson finally worked a three-up, three-down inning in the fifth. The Leesburg, Va., native relieved sophomore James Tallon — who pitched just one inning, a scoreless third — and ultimately pitched three innings of one-run ball.

Sidelined since suffering a rib injury just moments before a planned start May 10, Jonathan Santucci made a short, yet relatively effective, start for the Blue Devils. Tossing under a pitch limit and finishing with just 37, the junior ace worked around baserunners in each of his innings on the mound to post two scoreless frames before handing the ball over to Tallon.

“These are the moments you look forward to all year, [to] get the opportunity to be able to compete,” Santucci said. “To be able to get to a regional, have the chance to potentially host the regional. That didn't work out, [but] we go by the motto of ‘Road Dawgs,' and no matter where we come from or have to go play we’re going to come and compete our tails off every single pitch.” 

Looking forward, Duke will face the loser of Saturday evening’s Oklahoma-UConn game in another elimination game at 3 p.m. Sunday.


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