Duke has not only kept rival North Carolina from winning the ACC Coastal Division championship this weekend, the Blue Devils have a chance to move into first place on Sunday.
With North Carolina needing to win twice in a three-game series to clinch the division title, the Blue Devils have won the first two games, including Saturday’s 5-2 decision at Durham Bulls Athletic Park.
After entering the series in second place behind UNC (33-16, 18-8 in ACC), Duke (38-11, 17-8) will be in first place if it can complete the series sweep Sunday at 1 p.m.
"We are playing our best baseball of the year," said Duke coach Chris Pollard, whose team has won its last seven games. "They are excited and hungry to play this baseball game tomorrow. And candidly I'm excited for them. They've earned the right to be in this position with the way they've gone out and taken care of business to his point."
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UNC has lost three games in a row after posting a nine-game winning streak over late April and early May.
"We just didn't do enough in any phase of the game today to put ourselves in a chance to win," UNC coach Mike Fox said. "We were close but just not good enough today."
After posting a 7-3 win on Friday night, the Blue Devils rode solid pitching to the win on Saturday.
Starting pitcher Ryan Day allowed six hits, all singles, over his six innings of work. He struck out three and issued two walks.
Bryce Jarvis pitched a scoreless seventh inning before Jack Labosky handled the final two innings. UNC touched Labosky for a run in the ninth, the first earned run he's allowed this season. But, with two runners on, Labosky got Zack Gahagan on a groundout to end the game.
"I was really disappointed with our kids approach, after we got behind, at the plate," Fox said. "We got away from it a little bit. We are going to have to learn to be better than that."
Duke took the lead for good with three runs in the third inning. All three scored with two outs.
Chris Proctor started the inning with a lead off single and moved to second on a wild pitch. He remained their with two outs before Griffin Conine bounced a run-scoring single up the middle for a 2-1 Duke lead.
After Conine took third on a Max Miller single and Miller stole second base, Taylor lined a single to left field driving in both runners to give Duke a 4-1 lead.
UNC put two runners on the fourth inning on Cody Roberts’ lead-off single and a two-out hit by Kyle Datres. But Day got Michael Busch on a fly ball to left field, causing the Tar Heels to strand their sixth and seventh runners of the game.
That wouldn’t be a problem the rest of the game as Duke’s pitchers took control.
"I give a lot of credit to Ryan Day," Pollard said. "They were consistently grinding out at bats and putting guys on early and he was able to pitch through that through the first three innings. "
The Tar Heels didn’t get a hit over fifth, sixth and seventh innings and their lone base runner came when Jarvis pitched around a two-out walk in the seventh inning.
Trailing 5-1, UNC had two hits in the eighth off Labosky and had another batter reach on an error. But a double play short-circuited the rally and Labosky struck out Jackson Hesterlee with two on to end the threat.
Duke jumped in front with a run in the first inning, driven in by Kone with a one-out double. The Blue Devils had a chance for more. But Max Miller hit a short fly ball to right field with one out and the bases loaded before UNC starter Austin Bergner retired Taylor on a groundout to escape the jam.
The Tar Heels tied the game 1-1 in the top of the second inning when Roberts drove in Gahagan with a one-out single. Like Duke, the Tar Heels had a chance for more when they loaded the bases. But Day stifled the rally by striking out Datres to end the inning.