Seventh-inning home runs from Griffin Conine and Kennie Taylor powered Duke to an 8-5 victory over Georgia Monday afternoon to set up a winner-take-all final to follow in the NCAA tournament Athens Regional.
The winner of the second game will advance to the NCAA Super Regionals to face nationally ninth-seeded Texas Tech.
Duke (43-16) posted its third consecutive come-from-behind victory in fighting out of the losers’ bracket. This time, the Blue Devils came from three runs down to tie the game heading to the seventh inning.
With one out and the game tied at 5, Conine launched a 1-1 fastball over the right-center field wall. Conine was 3-for-16 in the tournament prior to that at-bat. After Joey Loperfido was hit by a pitch, Taylor hit a long fly ball to right-center field that carried over the fence.
The home runs were the 16th this season for Conine and sixth for Taylor.
Duke used what is proving to be a successful formula of sterling relief pitching after getting very little from its starters. In four tournament games, the starters have gone nine total innings with a 17.00 earned run average.
Monday’s starter Bill Chillari lasted one and 1/3 innings before turning duties to Graeme Stinson, who allowed one run over 4 2/3 innings, while not walking a batter and striking out eight. Jack Labosky then pitched three shutout innings to improve to 3-0 with one walk and three strikeouts.
The Duke bullpen has thrown 27 innings in the four tournament games, allowing six earned runs with six walks and 25 strikeouts for a 2.00 ERA.
Duke and Georgia have met once before in postseason play. The two played a best-of-three district tournament in Durham in 1953 with Georgia winning the opener before Duke swept a doubleheader to earn a spot in the College World Series.
Georgia entered Monday’s final game having never lost either a regional or super regional as the host team. The Bulldogs have won all four times in regionals and three times in super regionals while playing at home.