Duke proved once again Sunday night it’s a tough baseball team to knock out.
Facing elimination for the fifth time in the NCAA tournament, the Blue Devils battered Texas Tech pitching for 16 hits in an 11-2 win in Game 2 of the Lubbock super regional at Rip Griffin Park.
Duke’s win sets up a winner-take-all Game 3 in the series at 4 p.m. Monday on ESPN2. The winner heads to the College World Series. The loser’s season will end.
Duke (45-17) faced that prospect Sunday after Texas Tech (43-18) opened the best-of-three series with a 6-4 comeback win on Saturday. But, just like when they won four elimination games to come through the loser’s bracket and win the Athens (Ga.) regional last week, the Blue Devils played their best baseball with no margin for error.
"We've been really comfortable playing with our backs against the wall," Duke coach Chris Pollard said. "I talked (to the team) on the bus today all the different times over the course of the season, being in must-win ballgames with our backs against the wall. And I talked about how we responded in those games over the course of the season. Certainly that was on display last weekend in Athens, and just incredibly proud of our team and the way we responded."
Sophomore left-handed pitcher Graeme Stinson (5-1) matched a career high by pitching six innings for Duke, stifling the powerful Texas Tech offense on five hits while not allowing a run.
"He's got power stuff," Texas Tech coach Tim Tadlock said. "I think he was up to 96 or 97 (mph) with a wipe-out breaking ball. He's left-handed. He was commanding the fastball. That guy could have got a lot of people out today. "
Texas Tech’s Caleb Kilian (9-2) kept Duke scoreless over the first three innings, allowing one hit, before the Blue Devils busted loose with four runs in the fourth and six more in the fifth inning to build a 10-0 lead. Kilian started the day with a 2.39 ERA and ended it at 3.04.
Joey Loperfido and Griffin Conine each had three hits for Duke. Loperfido drove in three runs, including the first two of the game. Four other Duke players — Max Miller, Chris Proctor, Zack Kone and Kennie Taylor — had two hits each.
"They all had two or three hits, so we obviously left some balls in the middle of the plate," Tadlock said. "It looks like to me that they were better than us today. They swung the bats really good. Their lineup is really good."
In the fourth inning, the Blue Devils attacked Kilian early in the count, needing just four pitches to take a 2-0 lead. Kone lined a 1-0 pitch for a single. Conine pulled the next pitch into right field for a single, putting runners on first and third.
On Kilian’s next offering, Loperfido ripped a line drive up the left-centerfield gap for a two-run triple.
After Taylor grounded out, Miller went the other way with a 1-0 pitch for a double down the right-field line and a 3-0 Duke lead.
Chris Crabtree hit the ball to the fence in right field for another double that drove in Miller for a 4-0 Duke lead.
After Stinson retired the Red Raiders in order in the top of the fifth, Duke piled on and knocked Kilian from the game in its fifth inning.
Proctor started the inning with a double, and, when Kone drove him in with a sharp single to right field, Kilian’s day was done.
"Big innings have sort of become our thing," Miller said. "We feed off stringing good at-bats together and hitting the ball hard. We had a good approach against the first guy tonight. We realized if we were going to beat him, we were going to have to hit his fastball. We got on that after the first time through the order."
Duke kept piling on relievers Kurt Wilson and Connor Queen, eventually sending 11 men to the plate in a six-run, six-hit inning. Miller’s bases-clearing triple was the biggest blow.
The day wasn’t all good for Duke, though. Taylor, Duke’s speedy centerfielder, injured his right leg in the seventh inning while attempting to make a lunging catch of a line drive at a full sprint.
Taylor was helped off the field while not putting weight on his right leg. Pollard said after the game that Taylor injured his hamstring and was "in a lot of pain." His status for Game 3 won't be known until Monday.