Duke's Pollard: 'I really feel like we are playing our best baseball right now'
Duke scored 11 runs in the ninth inning to rally from seven runs down after six innings Saturday in the NCAA tournament Athens Regional and extended for another day what is a fast becoming a historic season.
The Blue Devils scored two runs each in the seventh and eighth innings, then hit double figures in the ninth for a wild, 16-8 victory over Campbell.
Duke, which improved to 41-16, will next play Sunday at 6 p.m. against the loser of Sunday’s noon game between Georgia and Troy.
“I’m just incredibly proud of our club,” said Duke coach Chris Pollard. “I know that I’m excited to get to continue to coach this team. They’re a special group.”
Immediately after the game, Pollard gathered his team on Foley Field and congratulated them on being the first Duke team since 1961 to win an NCAA tournament game.
The key blow in the ninth came from the most unlikely of sources. Freshman Chris Crabtree, a product of Durham’s Riverside High, delivered a three-run double that gave the Blue Devils a 9-8 lead.
“It probably looks like I should have been playing him a lot more over the course of this season,” Pollard said of Crabtree, who entered the game with only 14 at bats on the season. Crabtree entered the game as the designated hitter after Michael Rothenberg’s back tightened during a one hour and 37-minute weather delay.
Zack Kone started Duke’s ninth-inning rally when he beat out a chop single to deep shortstop. After Griffin Conine struck out, Joey Loperfido lined a single to center field and Chase Cheek walked to load the bases. Max Miller followed with a line single to left field that scored Kone and left the bases loaded.
Crabtree then lined a double into the right field corner to clear the bases. Chris Proctor added a two-run single later in the inning and Cheek delivered a two-run single to put the game out of Campbell’s reach.
The heart-breaking loss for Campbell followed an 18-5 defeat to top-seeded Georgia earlier in the day. Campbell had won the Big South Conference regular-season and tournament titles for the first time this season.
“I talked to our guys between games and said, ‘Hey, we’ve bounced back off the mats every time this year, just give us everything you’ve got, win, lose or draw, empty the tank for each other and for this program and we can live with the results,’ ” said Campbell coach Justin Haire. “I felt like they did that.”
Campbell finished the season with a 35-26 record.