The bullpen that carried Duke to its first NCAA tournament regional title last weekend wasn’t able to hold Texas Tech down in Saturday’s super regional opener.
The No. 9 seeded Red Raiders scored four runs off Duke relievers, coming from behind twice to beat the Blue Devils 6-4 in game one of the Lubbock super regional at Rip Griffin Park.
After trailing 3-0 in the fifth inning of Saturday’s game, Texas Tech (43-17) now just needs a win over Duke in Sunday’s second game to win the best-of-three series and advance to the College World Series.
Duke (44-17) needs a win Sunday to force a deciding game three on Monday.
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The Blue Devils rode their stingy bullpen to four elimination game wins to capture the Athens regional last Monday.
But Ethan DeCaster and Jack Labosky allowed four runs over Texas Tech’s final three turns at bat -- including a two-run eighth inning -- on Saturday.
Labosky, with an 0.71 ERA for the season, took over in the eighth inning with the score tied at 4 and allowed two unearned runs. A close play on a force out attempt went against Duke to help the Red Raiders rally.
Texas Tech eighth-place hitter Cody Farhat started the game-winning rally with a one-out single. Braxton Fulford attempted a sacrifice bunt and Duke catcher Chris Proctor threw to second base. But the throw was high and pulled shortstop Zack Kone off the base for an error, just Proctor's third of the season, that left runners at first and second.
Pollard argued the call, which is not reviewable by replay under NCAA tournament rules. Kone had the ball prior Farhat arriving to the base and said his foot was on the base to record the out.
"Initially, I thought I had my foot on the base," Kone said. "And that's all I'll say about that."
After fouling off three two-strike pitches, Gabe Holt ripped a sharp single to right field giving Texas Tech a 5-4 lead. Brian Klein’s two-out RBI double gave the Red Raiders a 6-4 lead entering the ninth.
Holt called the disputed play at second base "huge."
"It was huge," Holt said. "Getting two runners on in front of me, there was one out. That was big. It was just big."
Duke put a rally together in the ninth inning as Michael Smiciklas was hit by a pitch and, one out later, Jimmy Herron reached on an infield single putting runners at first and third. But Proctor grounded into a game-ending double play.
After taking over for Duke starting pitcher Mitch Stallings in the sixth inning, DeCaster twice failed to protect a one-run lead. The last time came in the seventh inning when Texas Tech senior Zach Rheams blasted a two-out solo home run tying the game at 4-4.
DeCaster took over with the Blue Devils clinging to a 3-2 lead.
He immediately found trouble against the lower half of the Texas Tech order as Cameron Warren reached on a lead-off single. One out later, DeCaster hit Farhat with a pitch before walking Fulford to load the bases with one out.
Holt, the Red Raiders' lead-off batter, hit a ground ball up the middle that Duke turned into a force out at second base. But Kone was hit by the sliding base runner as he threw, causing a high throw that allowed Holt to reach first safely. A run scored on the play tying the game at 3-3.
DeCaster retired Brian Klein on foul fly ball to left field to end the threat.
While admitting Klein's two-out double to push Texas Tech's lead to two runs in the eighth was on a pitch Labosky "would like to have back", Pollard said he couldn't find fault with how DeCaster and Labosky pitched overall despite the outcome.
"Some of that was a really good job by Texas Tech," Pollard said. "We had some bad luck. I thought we executed some pretty good pitches. We talk about a process of pitching to a ground-ball contact. Both of those guys that are in the game late are ground ball guys. We got ground balls in those spots. Those guys did what they’re supposed to do. Those balls weren’t at people in those spots and that ultimately was the difference."
Duke regained the lead in the seventh inning when, with two outs, Herron and Proctor drew walks from Texas Tech relief pitcher Jose Quezada. Kone worked the count full before lining a sharp single to right field that drove in Herron for a 4-3 Duke lead.
Duke took the lead in the second inning when Joey Loperfido singled, moved to second on a passed ball, took third on a groundout and scored on Max Miller’s two-out single to right field.
As Stallings continued to keep the Red Raiders scoreless, Duke used more two-out magic to extend its lead to 3-0 in the fifth inning.
After pitcher Ryan Shetter put two runners on by hitting Chris Crabtree and Herron with pitches, Kone lined a double off the left field wall with two outs driving in both runners.
"I thought we competed really good in the batter's box," Pollard said. "We were really clutch."
Having put runners on but failing to score over the first four innings, Texas Tech finally got on the scoreboard in the fifth inning.
With one out, Holt singled to left before Stallings walked Klein. Stallings retired Josh Jung on a full-count pop out and was close to escaping again.
But Grant Little hit a fly ball to deep left field. Duke’s Herron leaped just before the wall but missed the catch as the ball bounced on the warning track. Both runners scored to leave Duke with 3-2 lead.
Stallings recovered to retire Rheams on a groundout to end the threat and end his day on the mound.
Stallings’ work put Duke in position to win, just as he did last Monday in the Athens regional title game against Georgia when he pitched seven innings and allowed just three earned runs.
In three starts prior to that, Stallings had allowed 23 hits and 20 earned runs over 10 ⅓ innings for a 17.42 ERA.
Over the two starts against Georgia and Texas Tech, Stallings pitched 12 innings and allowed 13 hits and five earned runs for a 3.75 ERA.
While Texas Tech coach Tim Tadlock said he'll start Caleb Kilian (9-1, 2.39) on Sunday, Pollard said he and his staff would meet later Saturday night to decide Duke's pitching plans.
The Blue Devils have starters Ryan Day (5-4, 5.04) and Adam Laskey (6-4, 5.47) available. Graeme Stinson (4-1, 2.09) and Bryce Jarvis (5-1, 2.42), who were both effective out of the bullpen at the Athens regional, are also available after not pitching on Saturday.