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Duke Baseball Back in the Super Regionals

Duke’s baseball program continues to rise

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Ball rack Photo by Darin Wallentine/Getty Images

In many ways, the 2019 Duke baseball season would answer the question whether the amazing 2018 season was a sign of good things to come or whether the Blue Devils were just a one hit wonder. In 2018, the Blue Devils won 40 games in the regular season, earning the second seed in the Athens Regional. There, after being shut out in their opening game 6-0, the Blue Devils became the Comeback Kids, overcoming a seven-run deficit in the second game to defeat Campbell 15-6 and then going onto win three more games, including two against top seed and host Georgia, to move onto the Super Regionals. In the Super Regionals, Duke wasn’t quite able to pull out a trip to the College World Series, falling in the third game of the best of three series 6-2. Despite not making it to Omaha, the team finished with 45 wins and had a record tying seven players taken in the MLB Amateur Draft.

The pundits felt the 2019 version of Duke baseball would be as competitive as its immediate predecessor, picking the Blue Devils to finish second in the Costal Division, tied with Virginia and just behind arch-rival North Carolina. Duke was predicted to finish above traditional baseball powerhouses Georgia Tech and Miami. While the Blue Devils didn’t meet the lofty expectations of the prognosticators, they did manage to win 34 games, constantly falling in and out of the Top 25 baseball rankings (the Blue Devils were lasted ranked at #25 the last week of April). Despite the success, Duke needed at least one win in the ACC Tournament to help strengthen the case they deserved to be among the top 64 teams selected for the 2019 tourney. Many NCAA brackets prior to the Selection Monday had the Blue Devils among the last four teams to make the tournament. On May 27th. Duke realized that it would be in the Baseball Big Dance, securing a three seed in the Morgantown Regional, hosted by West Virginia.

In order to advance in Morgantown, the Blue Devils’ would have to get through two of the NCAA’s top pitchers - Texas A&M’s John Doxakis (a 2019 2nd round draft choice for Tampa Bay) and West Virginia’s Alek Manoah (a 2019 1st round draft pick choice of the Toronto Blue Jays). In the opener, Duke scored for runs off of Doxakis in seven innings, the majority of them coming from junior Erickson Nicholas’ three run home run. Meanwhile Duke entered the NCAA Tournament without its top starter, Graeme Stinson, who was shut down midway through the season with an arm injury. Instead, it was Stinson’s replacement in the rotation.

Duke graduate transfer Ben Gross, who outdueled Doxakis, also going seven innings, but giving up only one run. In the 8th, Duke four more runs, aided by another three-run blast, this time from pinch hitting freshman Rudy Maxwell. The Blue Devil bullpen was a bit shaky, giving up four runs in the 9th inning, but managed to hold on for the win.

In the second game of the regional, Duke faced top seed and host West Virginia and it’s ace Manoah. The Blue Devils jumped out to an early 2-0 in the bottom of the first, and then added two more runs in the third inning. All four runs were charged to Manoah. Manoah ended up going six innings, giving up the four earned runs. Meanwhile, Duke sophomore Bryce Jarvis pitched a stellar game, going eight innings, giving up only six hits while striking out 11.

The two early wins meant that Duke had time on its hands while waiting for its next opponent for a Sunday evening showdown. That opponent ended up being Texas A&M again. The Aggies appeared to mimic the Duke Comeback kids of the 2018 tournament, hitting two grand slams, including a walk off GS to stun West Virginia on its home field. Seemingly, the momentum of such a huge win could have bled into the Aggies’ game against the Blue Devils. Sophomore Chandler Jozwiak, the Texas A&M starter, impressively struck out 12 Blue Devils in six and two-thirds innings pitched. Unfortunately for Jozwiak, one player he didn’t strike out was Duke graduate transfer Kyle Gallagher. In the bottom of the first inning, Gallagher hit a two-out three run home run to give Duke an early lead. Then in the bottom of the third inning, Gallagher had another key two-out hit, this one a double to score Kenny Taylor. Duke’s four runs were enough support for Duke starter Bill Chillari who scattered seven Aggie hits across four and two third innings. Two other Duke pitchers, Jack Carey and Matt Dockman, closed out the final game as Duke swept its way to the regional title.

Up next for the Blue Devils is a trip to Nashville to take on a number 1 seed (and the tournament’s overall second seed overall) Vanderbilt Commodores. Duke is one of three No. 3 seeds in the Super Regionals. The Blue Devils also are joining fellow ACC teams Louisville, North Carolina and Florida State still alive for a trip to Omaha. Like last year’s team, Duke will need a little bit of luck to find itself in Omaha this season. But baseball is one of those games where anything can happen and where home field advantage can sometimes have its limits. If Duke can strike first and jump out to a lead as it did often in Morgantown, then the Blue Devils may find a way to bottle magic once again and make it to the College World Series.

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