Despite taking a couple of detours along the way, the Duke baseball team is still on the road to Omaha.
The Blue Devils overcame deficits in both games to beat top-seeded Georgia twice Monday — both by 8-5 scores — to complete an amazing run through the loser’s bracket to earn the first trip to an NCAA Super Regional in school history.
Coach Chris Pollard’s team will not play Texas Tech in Lubbock, Tex., next weekend in a best-of-three series with a trip to the College World Series on the line.
“To say that I’m proud of our team is the biggest understatement that I’ve ever said.” Pollard told GoDuke.com. “Unbelievable resiliency and character and fight. They’ve got a lot invested in one another.”
Duke (44-16) needed to beat the Bulldogs twice to advance, but fell behind 4-1 after an inning and a half in the opening game.
Thanks to the solid relief pitching of Graeme Stinson and Jack Labosky, who allowed just one more run the rest of the way, the Blue Devils were able to chip away. They eventually took the lead with a three-run seventh, highlighted by home runs from Griffin Conine and Kenny Taylor.
The long ball also played prominently in the clinching second game victory with Conine — who was drafted 59th overall by the Toronto Blue Jays later in the day — crushed a pair of home runs to back a gritty seven-inning pitching performance by senior Mitch Stallings.
Zack Kone and Jimmy Herron also went deep as Duke broke the game open with a five-run third inning rally after surrendering the game’s first two runs.
Although Conine had the biggest hits on Monday, the Blue Devils would never have had a chance to advance if not for the contributions of a much-less heralded teammate.
Freshman Chris Crabtree was the breakout star of the Athens regional, earning Most Outstanding Player honors by going 10-for-14 with two home runs, three doubles, nine RBI, six runs and three walks in five games.
Crabtree had only batted 14 times all season prior to the regional, but earned a spot as the Blue Devils’ DH after coming in as a pinch-hitter and driving in the winning run in an elimination game win against Campbell on Saturday.
Duke won that game after trailing 8-1 into the seventh inning. The Blue Devils outscored their opponents 47-15 from that point on to beat the Camels, Troy and UGA while joining rival North Carolina as the only ACC teams to advance to a Super Regional.
South Carolina 8, UNCW 4: While Duke succeeded in beating the odds to advance in the Athens Regional, UNC Wilmington fell short in its bid to also reach a Super Regional.
The Seahawks ran out of gas a day after their upset of top-seeded host East Carolina as the Gamecocks pounded out 15 hits and got a strong starting pitching performance from Carmen Mlodzinski.
Mason Berne had three hits and drove in two runs for UNCW while Kep Brown hit his seventh homer of the season in the loss.