DURHAM — With N.C. State ahead by six runs in the eighth inning, the game looked over.
And the Blue Devils were playing like it was over, allowing Trea Turner to steal third base while they weren’t paying attention.
Duke coach Chris Pollard wasn’t pleased, and he ripped into his team before the bottom half of the inning. He figured the tongue-lashing would either send them further into a hole or help catapult them back into the baseball game. It did the latter, as the Blue Devils rallied for five runs in the eighth and two in the ninth for a dramatic 11-10 victory, giving Duke series wins against N.C. State and North Carolina in the same season for the first time since 2009.
“It was a season-changing win and a program-changing win,” Duke third baseman Jordan Betts said. “We’re the champs of the Triangle, so to speak. When is the last time that that happened? This is a great moment for Duke and Duke baseball going forward.”
Betts, a senior, provided the game-changing at-bat that put Duke (20-17, 9-9) back in the game. Betts had hit a home run off of the bull hanging above the left-field fence during the fifth inning – his first of the year – and he dug in against Joe O’Donnell with two on in the eighth. Of the 10 pitches O’Donnell had thrown that inning, eight had been balls, but Betts took a check swing at a slider in the dirt to begin his at-bat. Another off-speed pitch put him in an 0-2 hole.
Then, with a decision that had N.C. State coach Elliott Avent at a loss for words after the game, O’Donnell threw Betts a high fastball, and he drilled it over the bull for a three-run home run that cut Duke’s deficit to 10-7.
“We made a couple of 0-2 pitches that were just unbelievable,” Avent said. “Jordan, the third baseman, we pitched him very poorly the second time.”
O’Donnell was replaced by Cody Beckman, but he started his day by allowing a Chris Marconcini single. The next batter, Aaron Cohn – who entered the game 0-for-9 in the series – drilled a 1-0 pitch off the bull to make it a 10-9 game.
Andrew Istler pitched a scoreless ninth for Duke, and, for the first time in Pollard’s two seasons, the Blue Devils felt like they were going to win the game despite being down in the bottom of the ninth.
Cameron Neal, in his second plate appearance of the year, was hit by a D.J. Thomas pitch. The next batter, leadoff man Mark Lumpa, popped up a bunt, but it landed on the infield grass and spun back to catcher Brett Austin – and Austin threw the ball into right field, where it bounced around near the bullpen mound long enough to let pinch-runner Anthony D’Alessandro score from first. Lumpa ended up at third with no outs and the score 10-10.
“The way we gave it up was absolutely ridiculous,” Avent said. “That’s an embarrassment.”
Jon Olczak came in to pitch for the Wolfpack and struck out Mike Rosenfeld before intentionally walking Betts and Marconcini to load the bases with one out. Cohn, fresh off his first hit of the weekend, was up again.
“After the two walks, with nowhere to put me, I had a feeling they were going to be throwing fastballs,” Cohn said, “So I was out there sitting fastball on the first pitch.”
Cohn got his fastball, and he roped it to score the winning run.
Beyond the bragging rights implications, the win was equally huge for Duke and devastating for N.C. State (20-15, 6-12) in terms of postseason implications. With four weekends to go, the Blue Devils are seventh in the ACC, which will send 10 teams to its postseason tournament. N.C State is 12th of 14 teams.
“These kids have to hear a lot about N.C. State baseball and North Carolina baseball, and rightfully so,” Pollard said. “It has worn on our guys that, hey, there’s a third really good college baseball team in the Triangle that’s not being talked about. And they have played both these series with a chip on their shoulder.
“It was a really special win to be a part of, and hopefully this can be a big jumping off point for us.”
Keeley: 919-829-4556; Twitter: @laurakeeley