Duke survived some Jake Gelof drama in the ninth inning to hold on for a 5-4 win over No. 7 Virginia Friday afternoon at Disharoon Park in a showdown of ACC teams in the Charlottesville Super Regional.
The game came down to the final pitch as Gelof’s deep drive appeared to be heading for the left-field bleachers. Gelof raised his arms while tracking the flight of the ball as his Cavalier teammates leaped from the dugout to celebrate. Duke leftfielder Tyler Albright had other thoughts, though, leaping to make the catch, inches from the façade of the wall, to end the game.
The Blue Devils (39-22) grab a 1-0 advantage in the best-of-three series that resumes Saturday at noon. Game 3, if necessary, will be played on Sunday.
Virginia fans can rest a bit more comfortably tonight with this fact in mind. Entering today’s contest, the Cavaliers were 2-5 in Super Regional opening games, but are 5-2 in winning in Super Regionals play.
Today the Blue Devils rallied for the comeback win after Virginia (48-13) used a three-run sixth to take a 4-3 advantage.
Duke answered with a two-run eight, sparked by Jay Beshears’ leadoff hit off Virginia closer Jay Woofolk (2-1). With one out, MJ Metz singled. UVA coach Brian O’Connor lifted Woolfolk here to go with lefty Jake Berry, who plunked Giovanni DiGiacomo with a two-strike pitch to load the bases for Duke.
Albright’s shallow fly to center appeared to have been caught by a charging Ethan O’Donnell, but the ball popped lose after O’Donnell hit the grass. Beshears scored, while pinch-runner Josh Solomon was thrown out at third.
Tied at 4-all with two outs, Luke Storm ripped a single to left, scoring a speedy DiGiacomo from second to give Duke a 5-4 lead.
Losing late leads is something the Cavalier don’t do.
But it was an unusual day all around for Virginia, which was charged with two errors and got some less than spectacular work out of the bullpen.
Duke started fast
As has been the case in all three games with UVA this season, Duke struck first.
No. 9 hitter Damon Lux hit a Nick Parker fastball out for a two-run dinger in the top of the third to stake Duke to the early 2-0 lead.
Lux is hot at the plate. In the Conway Regional, he had eight RBIs batting last.
Lux’s homer scored Storm, who was the first of two Duke hitters to be hit; both scored on the day.
Cavaliers were swinging away early
Virginia made it easy on the Duke starting pitcher, Andrew Healy, and reliever Owen Proksch, as the Cavaliers swung at the first pitch six times in the first four innings, all going for outs.
Twice in four innings, it only required six pitches to retire UVA.
The aggressive-swinging approach paid dividends for the Cavaliers in the sixth inning, scoring three times on four hits. Gelof jumpstarted the inning with a leadoff double. Kyle Teel followed with an RBI-single to score Gelof. Anthony Stephan was credited with an RBI after his hard-hit grounder was snagged by a diving Beshears, allowing Teel to score from third.
Henry Godbout went first-pitch swinging on reliever Fran Oschell III and sent a flyball to right that was deep enough to give Virginia a 4-3 lead.
To bunt or not?
Teel’s second hit of the day and fifth stolen base of the year had UVA poised to tie the game in the eight. Instead of bunting the potential tying run to third with less than two outs, the Cavaliers continued to take the swing-away approach. Oschell struck out Ethan O’Donnell and induced two flyball outs to turn Virginia away.
The thought for Virginia coach Brian O’Connor may have been to not take the bat out of the hands of one of the Cavaliers hottest hitters, as the lower portion of the lineup loomed.
The dramatic ninth
After allowing a pair of two-out baserunners, Duke freshman lefty James Tallon kept Gelof’s 352-foot fly ball in the yard for the final out.
Tallon, who was second-team All-ACC this season, got two quick outs to begin the ninth before putting two runners on, forcing the Gelof showdown.