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Louisville knocks Duke out of ACC baseball tournament

Duke coach Chris Pollard talks about Mitch Stallings' struggles on the mound

Duke's Mitch Stallings, the senior left-hander, couldn't handle the Louisville Cardinals' batters as the Blue Devils’ quest for a league title ended with a 9-2 loss.
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Duke's Mitch Stallings, the senior left-hander, couldn't handle the Louisville Cardinals' batters as the Blue Devils’ quest for a league title ended with a 9-2 loss.

Duke baseball coach Chris Pollard expressed confidence that Mitch Stallings would give a quality pitching performance against Louisville in the ACC tournament on Friday at Durham Bulls Athletic Park.

The senior left-hander, though, couldn't handle the Cardinals' batters as the Blue Devils’ quest for a league title ended with a 9-2 loss.

Louisville strafed Stallings for eight runs on seven hits over the first four innings to win Pool D. Stallings also walked two batters, while hitting two others with pitches, during his short stint.

"One thing you have to be good at is limiting free offense and we didn't do a great job of that early in the game," Pollard said. "We did a very good job of that over the second half of the game but at that point they had built a pretty good cushion."

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Duke starting pitcher Mitch Stallings (47) works from the mound in the first inning against Louisville during the ACC Championship on Friday, May 25, 2018, at Durham Bulls Athletic Park in Durham, N.C. Special to the N&O

Fifth-seeded Louisville (42-16) advances to play 12th-seeded Pitt in Saturday’s 1 p.m. tournament semifinal. The Panthers beat No. 8 seed Georgia Tech and top-seed North Carolina in pool play to advance.

Duke (40-15), the ACC tournament's No. 4 seed, now waits to learn its place in the NCAA tournament. With an RPI of 20 prior to Friday’s games, the Blue Devils are heading to the NCAA tournament for the second time in three years.

Duke is hoping to be one of 16 teams selected as a regional host site. The NCAA will announce those on Sunday night at 9 p.m.

At noon Monday, the NCAA will release the pairings for the 64-team tournament during a show on ESPNU.

A run to the ACC championship would have helped Duke’s case, of course. But Louisville knocked a dent in that plan quickly on Friday morning.

Stallings allowed a single to sophomore infielder Tyler Fitzgerald, the first batter he faced. One out later, Stallings gave up back-to-back walks to junior infielder Devin Mann and sophomore first baseman Logan Wyatt to load the bases.

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Louisville’s Jake Snider (20) slides in to home under Duke catcher Chris Proctor to score on a double by Devin Mann in the fourth inning during the ACC Championship on Friday, May 25, 2018 at Durham Bulls Athletic Park in Durham, N.C. Louisville scored four runs in the fourth to open an 8-1 lead over Duke.

Stallings fell behind on the count, two balls and a strike, to junior outfielder Josh Stowers before Stowers lined a single to left field driving in two runs for a 2-0 Louisville lead.

After a fly out to right field put Stallings in position to escape further damage, he complicated things by hitting sophomore outfielder Drew Campbell with a pitch to load the bases again.

Louisville freshman catcher Zach Britton worked the count to 2-2 before ripping a single to right field, driving in two more runs for a 4-0 Cardinals lead.

"That ball game may play itself completely different if we execute the two-strike pitch to get off the field," Pollard said. "That was a huge moment in the game. We have a chance to get off the field there with two runs scoring despite the fact that we haven't been very clean. We've walked two batters. We've hit another guy. There we are one pitch away from getting off the field. If it's 2-0 that game might play itself out very differently."

The fourth inning started with a hit by pitch followed by a single from sophomore third baseman Justin Lavey. After a failed sacrifice bunt led to a force play at third, sophomore infielder Jake Snider singled to load the bases with one out.

Stallings got ahead on the count, one ball and two strikes, but Mann fouled off two pitches while working the count full. On the 3-2 pitch, Mann drilled a line drive to the wall in left-center field for a three-run double and a 7-1 Louisville lead.

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Duke coach Chris Pollard takes the ball from starting pitcher Mitch Stallings (47) as Stallings exits the game against Louisville during the ACC Championship on Friday, May 25, 2018 at Durham Bulls Athletic Park in Durham, N.C.

That was it for Stallings (3-5), who saw his season earned run average balloon to 5.96. Including his work in a 9-6 loss at Georgia Tech on May 17, Stallings will head into the NCAA tournament having allowed 16 hits and 15 runs (all earned) over his last six innings pitched.

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