Since the moment the Duke baseball team snuck into the NCAA Tournament, head coach Chris Pollard has been saying the team was playing with house money. Injuries had already cost the Blue Devils their top pitcher, Graeme Stinson, for the entire tournament. In addition, freshman shortstop Ethan Murray had been out since May 21st after requiring surgery after getting hit in the face while batting. Just getting to the tournament seemed to be enough of a victory.
But then the Blue Devils got hot, winning four straight games, including last Friday’s 18-5 win over the tournament overall second seed. Suddenly, it appeared that Duke could actually sneak its way into its second College World Series appearance, nearly 60 years after it’s initial appearance in 1961. Unfortunately, the Blue Devils dreams of making it back to the CWS will have to wait another season, as Duke lost two straight games in Nashville, 3-0 and 13-2.
In the Saturday game, Duke was on the wrong side of history, as Vanderbilt freshman phenom Kumar Rocker pitched a no-hitter. Rocker hit Duke centerfielder Kenny Taylor in the bottom of the first inning (Taylor would have to leave the game), but then got into a natural grove. Rocker would end up striking out 19 Blue Devil hitters. Duke starter Bryce Jarvis also had a strong game, giving up only run over seven innings, striking out nine Commodores. But it wasn’t enough to get the Blue Devils the needed win.
Like last season, the Blue Devils faced a third game in the best of three series, with the winner going to the CWS. In 2018, Duke managed to battle Texas Tech for most of the game, being down only one run (3-2) entering the top of the 7th inning. Unfortunately, Duke failed to score any more runs while the Red Raiders added three more runs to seal the win. Against Vanderbilt, the Commodore bats that were silent on Friday night came to life. The first batter of the game, Austin Martin, hit a home run off of Duke starter Bill Chillari. After getting one out, Chillari gave up an infield single, a walk and then three run home run to Pat DeMarco. Just like that Vanderbilt lead 4-0.
In the bottom of the second inning., Martin would homer again, this time a two-run shot, increasing the Vanderbilt lead to 6-0. Duke got one of those runs back in the top of the third, when designated hitter Rudy Maxwell hit a solo home run. But in the bottom of the third, Vanderbilt added three more runs. Duke pitching seemingly could do nothing to stop the Commodore hitting attack, as Vanderbilt displayed why they were the second seeded team in the tournament.
Vanderbilt would add three more runs (one in the bottom of the 4th and two in the bottom of the 5th) to increase the deficit to double digits (Duke did score one in the top of the 4th as well, so the score entering the top of the 6th was 12-2). Both teams they had to wait out a weather delay, which may have been the only hope for the Blue Devils to cool off the hot hitting Commodores. Unfortunately for Duke, the delay didn’t heat up the Blue Devil bats, as Duke failed to add any more runs in the game.
Duke finished the 2018-19 season 35-27 overall, again just one game away from making it to the College World Series. But as head coach Chris Pollard pointed out in his post-game comments, this year’s Duke team overperformed in both the Regional and the Super Regional. And with overall top seed UCLA falling to Michigan on Sunday, Vanderbilt heads to Omaha as the favorite to win the CWS. There certainly is no shame in knowing that the team Duke lost to may end up being the eventual National Champions. Once again, Duke baseball has something to build on and soon enough Duke fans may be booking trips to Omaha.
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