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This Duke starting pitcher who helped beat Georgia gets the first crack at Texas Tech

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.
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

The lone Duke starting pitcher who performed well last weekend gets the start on Saturday as the Blue Devils look to continue their run of NCAA Tournament upsets.

Duke won the Athens Regional, beating No. 8 national seed Georgia twice last Monday, despite its starters pitching to an alarming 11.25 ERA for the Regional’s five games.

Mitch Stallings was the only Duke starting pitcher to last past the third inning. His performance in the deciding game against Georgia, allowing three earned runs over seven innings, helped Duke to an 8-4 win that sent the Blue Devils into this weekend’s Lubbock Super Regional against Texas Tech.

So it’s Stallings, the senior left-hander, who will be on the mound Saturday at 3 p.m. on four days of rest in Game 1 of the best-of-three series.

“Mitch has been a guy who has pitched in a lot of big spots for us over the course of his career,” Duke coach Chris Pollard said. “He’s also been a guy that’s had a good track record bouncing back. He’s a guy that likes to throw a lot.”

When Stallings (4-5, 6.01 ERA) took the mound last Monday at Athens, Georgia, his recent track record didn’t give him good chances for success. In his three previous starts, including one two days earlier against Campbell in the NCAA Tournament, he’d allowed 20 earned runs while pitching just 10 ⅓ innings for an ugly 17.42 ERA.

But Stallings was masterful against Georgia. Pitching in his home state, he struck out six while allowing seven hits and four runs (three earned).

“It was really good to come out of the last start feeling like I’m throwing the ball well,” Stallings said. “Kind of building off my last couple of outings. I’m feeling pretty good and ready to go.”

Texas Tech’s lineup relies on power. The Red Raiders hit 78 home runs this season to lead the Big 12 Conference. Five Texas Tech players have 10 or more, including Zach Rheams (16), Josh Jung (12), Grant Little (12), Michael Davis (11) and Cameron Warren (10).

Stallings said increased aggressiveness, particularly early in the count, made the difference against Georgia, another team with a powerful lineup. He expects to take a similar approach against Texas Tech.

“I think I just did a better job going after guys, attacking them from the first pitch of the at-bat,” Stallings said. “Recognizing that I can’t make everybody swing and miss on every pitch and to let my defense support me.”

Duke’s bullpen played a huge role in the Blue Devils’ success in Athens. After starters Stallings, Ryan Day, Adam Laskey and Bill Chillari struggled over the first four games, the relief pitchers allowed just six earned runs over 29 innings in the five games — a sterling 1.86 ERA.

Left-hander Graeme Stinson (4-1. 2.09) and right-handers Bryce Jarvis (5-1. 2.42), Ethan DeCaster (6-0, 1.07) and Jack Labosky (3-0, 0.71) are ready to carry a heavy load again. Pollard won’t hesitate to pull a starting pitcher at the first sign of trouble.

“It’s no secret we try to get to our bullpen as quick as we can,” Pollard said.

Starters for Sunday’s second game and Monday’s game, which will only be played if the teams split the first two, won’t be set until Saturday’s game is done.

Texas Tech will start Dylan Dusek (3-0, 2.22), who has only three starts in 17 appearances, on Saturday. Red Raiders coach Tim Tadlock will still have his top two starters — Caleb Kilian (9-1, 2.39) and Ryan Shetter (5-0, 2.97) — available for the rest of the series.

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