Duke collected a victory Tuesday night to shore up its NCAA baseball tournament hopes and move it a win away from the ACC tournament semifinals.
It came with a cost, though; a cost that could hinder the Blue Devils’ chances of future success this season.
During the fourth inning of Duke’s 10-6 ACC tournament win over Notre Dame, shortstop Ethan Murray was hit in the face with a pitch from Notre Dame’s Andrew Belcik.
A freshman batting .316, Murray was face down in the dirt at Durham Bulls Athletic Park for several minutes before walking off the field holding a towel over his face. He left the game and received treatment at Duke University Hospital.
According to Murray’s family, he suffered multiple fractures and was scheduled for surgery on Wednesday morning. His teammates visited him in the hospital after the game, which ended after 1 a.m.
Duke coach Chris Pollard said the injury impacted his team, which saw a 6-1 lead trimmed to a single run on two occasions before pulling away to claim the win.
“It was clear to me that it affected our team, it affected our team emotionally,” Pollard said. “We got on our heels a little bit. Credit Notre Dame. They took advantage of that. I thought we did an incredible job of regrouping.”
No. 7 seeded Duke (31-24) will play second-seeded Georgia Tech (38-16) on Friday at 11 a.m. The winner of that game will claim Pool B and move into Saturday’s ACC tournament semifinals.
In the regular season, the Yellow Jackets won two games of a three-game ACC series with Duke at the DBAP earlier this month.
“We’ve got our hands full, but I’m happy to be in a position where, when we tee it up against them on Friday it’s going to be a meaningful game,” Pollard said. “I can’t wait.”
It certainly appears Duke will do so without yet another of its top players.
Murray’s injury comes less than two weeks after Duke lost starting rightfielder Chase Cheek for the season due to a knee injury. The Blue Devils are also without a pair of junior left-handed pitchers, Graeme Stinson and Adam Laskey, due to injury.
Wil Hoyle replaced Murray at shortstop and drew praise from his teammates and Pollard for his play. The sophomore from Durham’s Jordan High only had 17 regular-season at-bats this year while appearing in 21 games.
Batting .118, he drew a pair of walks — including one with the bases loaded — and handled two ground balls to record outs on defense over the final five innings after Murray’s injury.
“He’s obviously a massive part of our team, an all-ACC freshman,” Duke catcher Michael Rothenberg said of Murray. “He’s huge. He’s our clean-up hitter. But Wil Hoyle being able to come in, I just know all of the work Wil puts in. Every day he comes in ready to grind. He was rewarded today. For him to come in, it was a huge shot in the arm.”
Rothenberg played a major role in Duke’s success against Notre Dame, driving in five runs. That included a first-inning grand slam that staked the Blue Devils to a 4-0 lead.
Two more Duke runs came in on a wild pitch in the second inning putting the Blue Devils up 6-1.
Duke led 7-6 in the seventh inning with one out when Thomas Girard replaced winning pitcher Matt Dockman (6-1) on the mound. Girard finished the game, recording the final eight outs while walking two and allowing two hits. He struck out six Notre Dame batters while picking up his ninth save of the season and lowering his earned run average to 1.30.
“Candidly, he should have been all-conference,” Pollard said. “He has done that for us numerous times throughout the course of the season.”
That allowed Duke to be the only team with the better seed to win on Tuesday, with upsets in the first two games on the ACC tournament’s opening day. No. 12 seed Boston College outlasted Clemson, 7-5, in Pool A before No. 10 seed Wake Forest toppled No. 7 seed Florida State 7-4 in Pool C.
Wake’s win means its Thursday 7 p.m. game with No. 3 seed N.C. State will decide the Pool C champion. The winner of that game will play in Saturday’s semifinals.
The tournament continues Wednesday with three games. No. 1 seed Louisville meets Boston College in an 11 a.m. game that will decide the Pool A winner. At 3 p.m., Georgia Tech plays Notre Dame in Pool B before No. 5 seed North Carolina meets No. 9 seed Virginia at 7 p.m. in the tournament’s first Pool D game.