Duke reached the 40-win plateau for the first time in program history, but they had to put in some overtime to make it.
The Blue Devils topped Wake Forest 6-2 in a 13-inning, four-hour, 25-minute ACC Tournament marathon to improve to 40-14 on the year.
“I’m exhausted, and I didn’t play,” said Duke coach Chris Pollard. “I don’t know how these guys were able to grind through that.”
Wake jumped out to a 2-0 lead in the third inning with a two-run double by Bobby Seymour off starter Ryan Day. Duke evened things up with runs in the fifth and sixth off Wake starter Griffin Roberts. Jack Labosky had an RBI single in the fifth, and Griffin Conine singled in the tying run the following inning.
Then the bullpens took over. Four Duke relievers worked a total of eight scoreless innings, while Wake’s pen kept Duke off the scoreboard for four-plus frames.
“That was an incredibly fatiguing game, but what a job by our bullpen,” Pollard said. “Just looking at the numbers: eight innings pitched, three hits, one walk, 14 strikeouts. Just an unbelievable job by our bullpen to keep us in the ballgame.”
Duke failed to capitalize on numerous chances to end the game earlier. Joey Loperfido ended the ninth by getting thrown out at home with the potential winning run, trying to score from second on a Kennie Taylor single. In the 10th, Duke loaded the bases with no outs but were unable to get a run across.
“It’s a crushing blow,” Conine said. “You’re looking to get at least one there, and we came up with none. But I think our bullpen was so electric and did a great job getting us back in the dugout that we weren’t too worried. We knew they were going to keep the ballgame right where it was, which is what they did, and we were back in the dugout, I think we had a 1-2-3 inning, and we were right back in it.”
From Taylor’s at-bat in the ninth through the end of the 12th inning, 11 of the 16 Blue Devils to bat came to the plate with runners on base. Yet Duke was unable to get the big hit.
“We had a lot of opportunities,” Pollard said. “We didn’t capitalize.”
Finally, in the 13th, Duke broke through, thanks to some shaky Wake relief. After a Conine single, two hit batters loaded the bases with two outs. Labosky and Jimmy Herron both walked, to force in runs. Chris Proctor then gave Duke some breathing room with a two-run single.
The effort came in a game that didn’t have any impact on Duke’s future in the tournament. The Blue Devils need to beat Louisville in Friday’s pool play finale in order to advance to the semifinals, a scenario that would have been the same had Duke lost to Wake.
Pollard, however, was more concerned about Duke’s NCAA future than making it to the weekend championship rounds of the ACC Tourney.
“As much as we want to be playing on Saturday, our ultimate goal is to get to Omaha,” he said.
Pollard hopes that the 40 wins, including 19 over ACC foes, will help Duke earn the right to host a regional next weekend.
“The best opportunity for us to (make it to Omaha) is by playing baseball in Durham next week,” he said, pointing out that just two teams in ACC history have won 18 league games and failed to host a regional.
“I think we made a very strong statement today about our opportunity to be playing baseball in Durham next week,” he said.