March 15, 2009

Courtesy of Duke Athletics

CORAL GABLES, Fla. – Duke senior Andrew Wolcott shut out Miami for a career-long 7.1 innings, and junior reliever Michael Ness retired all four batters he faced to lead Duke to a 2-0 win over No. 6 Miami Saturday evening at Mark Light Field.

Wolcott (3-0) scattered six hits and a walk in the outing and let just one Miami base runner reach third base. It was the first career shutout that Wolcott was a part of and only the third time since 2005 that any team shut out the Hurricanes (13-3, 4-1 ACC). Wolcott tossed 109 pitches – including 70 strikes – and struck out five batters while holding the Hurricanes to 0-for-8 with runners in scoring position.

Ness took over with one out in the top of the eighth and induced a double play on two pitches to end that inning and then came out in the ninth and retired Miami's five through seven hitters in order to lock up the win for Duke (10-5, 3-2 ACC) and his fourth career save. The win also broke up an eight-game win streak over ACC opponents for Miami, who entered the game on top of the ACC Coastal Division standings. Wolcott and Ness combined to hold Miami’s one through five hitters to a combined 2-for-19 with five strikeouts.

Junior outfielder Alex Hassan scored both of Duke's runs after knocking a pair of doubles from the leadoff spot, including a leadoff two-bagger in the first inning. An RBI ground out by senior cleanup hitter Nate Freiman scored Hassan in the opening frame and gave Wolcott all the run support he needed. Duke added an insurance run in the top of the eighth on a sacrifice fly by Jeremy Gould, which also sent in Hassan after he doubled in that inning as well. Duke sophomore shortstop Jake Lemmerman and freshman designated hitter Eric Pfisterer each ripped two singles in the game to account for four of Duke’s six hits.

Duke handed Miami starter David Gutierrez (2-1) his first loss of the season after scoring the run off of him in the first inning. The Blue Devils tagged four hits off the right-handed Gutierrez but could not put together another scoring series until after he left the game in the eighth.

Duke struck first in the first inning and staked Wolcott to a 1-0 lead before he ever took the mound. Hassan, batting leadoff for the first time since Duke’s season opener on Feb. 20, opened the game with a double down the left field line for his team-leading 10th extra-base hit of the season. A well-placed bunt down the first base line from Duke two-hitter Matt Williams then moved him over to third before Freiman drove him in with a two-strike groundout to shortstop.

Duke knocked out two more hits in the top of the second, but could not send in a run as Gutierrez stranded a pair of Blue Devils on first and second. Lemmerman dropped down a bunt single for Duke’s first hit and moved over to second base on an ensuing base knock to right field by Pfisterer. Pfisterer’s base knock was his second of the series and his fourth in his last five at bats. But despite the consecutive base knocks, Duke could not get Lemmerman past second as Gutierrez struck out Will Piwnica-Worms and forced Ryan McCurdy to fly out to end the inning.

Wolcott, meanwhile, enjoyed a scoreless first inning, but ran into some trouble in his second inning. He got some help from his defense to get out of the jam unharmed, however, and made an athletic play on a weakly-hit ground ball to help himself out of the jam. After Martinez opened the frame with a high chopper that he beat out to first base for a single, Wolcott plunked David DiNatale on the elbow to put two Hurricanes on base with no outs. He rebounded to force Yasmani Grandal to pop out to shortstop for the first out and then got some more help from Lemmerman when the sophomore shortstop fielded a ground ball in the hole and made a heads-up play by throwing to third base to get the force out. With runners still on first and second and two outs, Wolcott then helped his own cause by barehanding a softly-hit ground ball in front of the plate and firing over to first base just in time to record the third out.

Wolcott came out again in the third to face the top of the Miami lineup and fanned leadoff man Ryan Jackson and three-hitter Jason Hagerty to bookend a three-up, three-down inning. Those were the first two punchouts of the game for Wolcott, who entered the game averaging exactly one strikeout per inning.

While Wolcott held Miami scoreless for the first three innings, Gutierrez also settled in for the Hurricanes and held Duke to just two hits from the second through fourth innings. The Blue Devils made plenty of contact and struck out just once during that span, but put just one base runner in scoring position.

Wolcott racked up two more strikeouts to start the fourth inning, getting Hermann and Martinez, and brushed off a two-out by DiNatale to force Grandal to hit into an inning-ending groundout. Wolcott snuck a 1-2 fastball past Hermann for his third strikeout of the game and then sat down Martinez looking with a 2-2 fastball that painted the outside corner. He could not get a full count offering past DiNatale, who slapped a single into right field, but got Grandal to weakly ground out to second base for the final out.

The pitcher’s duel continued into the sixth after Wolcott and Gutierrez both turned in scoreless innings to keep the score at 1-0. Gutierrez retired the side in order in the top of the fifth, but Wolcott had to work his way out of a jam after giving up a leadoff single to Nathan Melendres. Melendres’ base hit was an infield single down the third base line that McCurdy dove for and gloved, but could not get it to first base in time to get Melendres. He beat the throw by less than a step for a single and then moved over to second on an ensuing sacrifice bunt by Jonathan Weislow. A wild pitch would move Melendres over to third base with one out, but Wolcott foiled the Hurricanes’ opportunity by getting two straight outs from the top of Miami’s lineup to end the threat.

Lemmerman broke up Gutierrez’ four-inning hitless streak with a single in the top of the seventh, but the Miami right-hander shook off the base knock by retiring Duke’s next two hitters to take the game into the bottom of the seventh. Miami, meanwhile, knocked two hits off Wolcott in the bottom of the seventh, but were once again shut down by Duke’s senior right-hander. Both of the hits came in succession from Grandal and Melendres, but Wolcott followed by getting two straight outs to kill the rally, the last of which was his fifth strikeout of the game.

Gould finally broke up the six-inning scoreless streak in the eighth with a bases-loaded sacrifice fly that came off of Miami reliever Travis Miller. Miller, who started the inning in place of Gutierrez, allowed a double to Hassan – his second two-bagger of the game – and followed by issuing consecutive walks to Williams and Freiman to load the bases. With one out on the board and the bases juiced, Gould mashed a deep fly ball to center field that should have gone for extra bases and multiple runs if not for a diving catch by Melendres. Gould’s long fly was well over Melendres’ head, but the Miami center fielder chased it down and made a diving catch deep in the outfield to take away the potential extra-base knock and save his pitcher at least another run. Hassan would easily score from third on the fly ball, but that would be all Duke could squeeze out of the inning, as Miller induced a ground out for the third out.

Wolcott stayed on to get the first out in the eighth inning, officially making it a career-high 7.1 innings for the senior right-hander, before Ness took over to inherit a runner on first base. Ness needed just two pitches to force Miami cleanup hitter Hermann to hit into an inning-ending 4-6-3 double play, which was Duke’s ACC-leading 16th turn of the season.

Wolf, who held Duke without a hit through two innings in Friday’s win, took over for Miller on the mound at the top of the ninth and sat down two of Duke’s three batters to take the game into the ninth with Duke ahead 2-0. Pfisterer knocked a one-out single off of Wulf, but Grandal erased the base knock by throwing out pinch runner Tom Luciano when he tried to steal second. It was the first time in Luciano’s two-year career that he was caught stealing and only the fourth time all season that a Blue Devil was caught trying to take a base.

Ness stayed on the hill in the ninth and retired all three Miami hitters to lock up the win. He forced groundouts from Martinez and DiNatale and struck out Grandal swinging to lock up the win. Ness earned his first save of the season and the fourth of his career and secured the third win of the year for Wolcott.

Duke will have a chance to win the series in the finale on Sunday, March 15, which is slated for a noon first pitch. Ryan Knott (1-0, 3.00 ERA) will make his second straight start for Duke opposite Miami left-hander Iden Nazario (2-0, 7.62 ERA).