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Duke Baseball On A Roll

Wow, what a run by the Blue Devils

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MLB: San Diego Padres at Pittsburgh Pirates Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

The late great Jim Valvano is credited with making popular the phrase “Survive and Advance” for the 1983 NC State basketball team’s run from being the 4th place team in the ACC with 10 loses all the way to an NCAA Championship. Beginning with their opening game in the ACC Tournament, the Wolfpack had little margin for error – a loss would have ended its season.

What the Wolfpack, or similar teams who have made runs to win the NCAA title, was rather amazing. Now imagine having to win four games in three days. And the last two games weren’t on a neutral court but were away games. That’s essentially what the Duke baseball team accomplished over the past four days, sweeping a double header over the Georgia Bulldogs to advance to the team’s first super regional in it’s history. The Blue Devils will travel to Lubbock Texas and take on Texas Tech in a three-game series. The team that wins two games will move on to the College World Series in Omaha, NE.

As if the overall accomplishment of advancing in the tournament is enough, Duke did it by constantly coming back. After losing their opening game to Troy 6-0, Duke found itself down 8-1 to Campbell entering the top of the 7th inning. The Blue Devils were nine outs away from heading back to Durham without capturing their first NCAA win since the 60s. Duke managed to score two runs in the 7th and 8th but still needed four runs to win. The Blue Devils more than made up for that, scoring 11 to win 16-8.

The win over Campbell only earned Duke a second elimination game the following evening against Troy. Duke immediately dug itself into a hole, giving up four runs in the bottom of the first. Yet just as fast as they gave up a lead the Blue Devils mounted a second comeback, scoring seven runs over the 2nd and 3rd innings and eventually cruising to a 15-6 win.

Duke’s ability to stave off elimination in those two games gave the Blue Devils the honor of facing Georgia at 1:00 on Monday. Lose, and the Blue Devils’ season was done. Win, and they would face Georgia again an hour after their first game, with the winner advancing. While the Bulldogs have had some recent struggles, this year was seen as a resurgent year for a program that historically has had some success on the diamond. Georgia won the College World Series in 1990, was runner up in 2008 and since 1987 made seven appearances in Omaha.

As the host of a regional, the Bulldogs had never managed to not make it out of Athens and advance in the NCAA Tournament. That all changed Monday. In the opening of the double header, Duke managed to put a run on the board, a rarity over it’s previous games. Yet Georgia came back with four runs in the top of the second. Duke got two of the runs back in the bottom of the second and then traded runs with the Bulldogs in the 5th inning to be down 5-4. Duke tied it in the 6th, and then took the lead, 8-5 in the 7th, led by home runs from Griffin Conine and Kennie Taylor. Two shutout innings later, and Duke had managed to survive one more game.

Throughout the season, and even more so in the first four regional games, one of the strengths of the Blue Devils was their relief pitching. Graeme Stinson, Jack Labosky, Ethan DeCaster, Brian Jarvis combined to surrender a total of 4 earned runs through 16 and two-thirds innings over Duke’s first three wins. In the final game of the regional, Duke started Mitch Stallings, who threw 71 pitches against Campbell. Stallings managed to go seven innings, giving up only three earned runs. Labosky pitched the final two innings, shutting out the Bulldogs and capping off the win.

Duke scored a total of 47 runs over the entire region, and none of those happened in its first game, a shutout loss. The Blue Devil offense was passed by Conine, who hit three home runs in the doubleheader against Georgia, including a monster shot that landed on top of the score board in center field. Designated hitter Chris Crabtree ended the regional series batting .500, including hitting a pair of home runs in the win over Troy.

The Blue Devils will be underdogs against Texas Tech, a team that for a brief moment was rooting for Duke since that would mean they would get to host the super-regional series. More impressive is that Duke is just one of two ACC teams in the super-regional (the other being the Tar Heels). The conference started the NCAA Tournament with six teams, with three (NC State, Clemson and Florida State) hosting regional series’ as the top seeds. The other ACC team was second-seeded Louisville. With the way Duke played in the Athens regional, it may be that no lead is too big against the Blue Devils.

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