DURHAM — Ever since Chris Pollard was hired as the Duke baseball coach, the players have often mentioned how positive he is and how he tries to keep the guys from getting too down emotionally.
That personality trait was on display after Duke’s 9-1 loss to Miami on Saturday, clinching the 3-game series for the Hurricanes (37-14, 12-5 ACC).
“That’s what I just reminded the guys, that end score feels worse than it really was,” Pollard, in his second year at Duke, said. “Because the reality is we’re two pitches away from going into the ninth inning 3-1. And that’s what our guys have to remember, and then all of the sudden, if you get one guy on base, then the tying run is at the plate.”
It was a 1-1 game going into the seventh inning. In the previous inning, the Blue Devils had runners on second and third with one out but couldn’t scrape out a run. Duke starter Trent Swart had pitched well through six innings, but he left a few pitches up as he began to tire.
With one out, Johnny Ruiz laced a single to center field, and the next batter, Brad Fieger, executed a hit-and-run with a single to right field, allowing Ruiz to advance to third. Swart was done for the day, and Duke brought on Andrew Istler in an attemptto either draw a ground ball or record a strikeout against Miami’s No. 9 hitter, Jacob Heyward.
The Blue Devils (30-20, 15-11 ACC) got the ground ball they were looking for to second baseman Andy Perez, but it was too difficult to turn into a double play. Ruiz scored from third, giving Heyward his second RBI off of a fielder’s choice.
Two pitches later, Istler uncorked a wild one that went back to the brick backstop, but it bounced directly back to catcher Mike Rosenfeld. He turned and fired to second base – but no one was covering the bag. Heyward ended up on third and came home on an RBI single to left from Miami’s leadoff hitter, Dale Carey, to give the Hurricanes a 3-1 lead.
“Our middle guys have got to recognize in this park, with the brick, the ball can come back to the catcher,” Pollard said. “When the ball went back to the backstop, they conceded the base, that he was going to get to second with no throw.”
Miami broke the game open in the eighth inning against Duke pitchers Nick Hendrix and Sarkis Ohanian. The latter took the mound with the bases loaded and the Blue Devils down 4-1. He walked Heyward, forcing in a run, and the next hitter, Carey, hit a grand slam so deep over the blue monster in left field at the Durham Bulls Athletic Park that it bounced off the porch overhang of the restaurant behind it. The six-run eighth gave the Hurricanes – winners of 24 of their past 26 games – their 9-1 advantage.
For Duke’s increasingly faint NCAA tournament hopes to remain alive, the Blue Devils need to salvage this weekend with a win Sunday. In the two other ACC series that Duke dropped the first two games – at Pittsburgh and at Georgia Tech – the Blue Devils lost Sunday as well. The focus after the game was to move on quickly from the disappointment of Friday and Saturday.
“In the past, we’ve let the first few games get to us, so tomorrow we’ve just got to come out like nothing happened,” Swart said. “It’s a new season tomorrow. It’s an 0-0 ball game starting off, we’ve just got to come in with a good mindset and be loose but have energy and a sense of purpose to what we do.”