March 21, 2009

Courtesy of Duke Athletics

CHAPEL HILL, N.C. – Andrew Wolcott held No. 1 North Carolina to three runs – one earned – over seven complete innings to lead Duke to a 5-4 win over the top-ranked Tar Heels in game two of the series on Saturday afternoon at Boshamer Stadium.

Wolcott (4-0) beat North Carolina (17-3, 5-2 ACC) for the second straight year after scattering six hits, which matches a season-low for the Tar Heels. Wolcott, a 6-6, 240 pound senior, held the Tar Heels scoreless for his first six innings before two unearned runs in the seventh innings snapped his 15-inning scoreless streak. It was the second straight win over a ranked opponent for Wolcott, who shut out No. 6 Miami for seven innings in his last start.

Duke (13-7, 4-4 ACC) spotted Wolcott a 1-0 lead before he even toed the rubber and ran that to 3-0 in the second inning on a two-run homer by senior Tim Sherlock. Sherlock’s bomb, his first of the season, gave Wolcott all the run support he needed, as he kept Duke ahead until he exited after facing one batter in the eighth inning. Wolcott kept his ERA at 1.27 with the performance and extended his run of five straight outings of at least seven innings. Duke also improved to 5-0 this season when Wolcott starts on the mound.

Duke relievers Michael Ness and Alex Hassan combined to close out the final two innings with Hassan getting through the ninth for his fourth save. Ness allowed an inherited runner to score when he took over in the eighth, but got through the inning with a slim 4-3 lead intact. Hassan, meanwhile, took over for Ness with one man on base and no outs in the ninth and worked his way through an eventful ninth inning that featured a bases-loaded, two-out situation to pick up his fourth save of the season.

Wolcott outdueled North Carolina starter Adam Warren (3-1), who went 5.2 innings and surrendered seven hits and three runs, though only two of which were earned. Warren gave up all three of those runs in the first two innings, but settled down to hold Duke scoreless for the remainder of his outing. Duke also scored once each off of North Carolina relievers Brian Moran, who went 1.1 innings and gave up a hit and an unearned run, and Colin Bates, who tossed two complete innings and gave up one hit and one unearned run. Both of those runs were produced by Duke cleanup hitter Nate Freiman, who sent in one with a fielder’s choice ground ball and the other after being hit by a pitch with the bases loaded.

Both Hassan and Matt Williams tagged three hits each from the top of the lineup for Duke, while Jeremy Gould knocked two, one of which was a double. Both of Williams’ knocks were doubles, while Hassan’s three hits – all singles – extended his team-leading hit streak to eight games. Hassan has scored 10 runs during that tear, raised his batting average to .458 and has now crossed the plate at team-leading 27 times in 20 games.

Two of North Carolina’s RBI came from the bat of shortstop Ryan Graepel, who knocked in both with a two-run double in the seventh inning. First baseman Dustin Ackley also sent in a run with one of his three hits in the game, while right fielder Garrett Gore accounted for the other with a groundout in the eighth inning.

Duke came out swinging in the first inning and got leadoff hits from Hassan and Williams on the way to a 1-0 lead. Hassan opened the inning by extending his team-leading hit streak to eight games with a single to right field, but was quickly sent back to the dugout when Gore threw him out at second from right field while trying to stretch his hit into a double. Gore’s outfield assist – his fifth of the season – would eventually save a run, as Williams followed with a double into the right field gap that turned into a three-base knock when Gore mishandled the ground ball. Williams would soon score from third on an ensuing groundout to shortstop by Freiman, however, which gave the Duke first baseman his 20th RBI of the season.

North Carolina countered with a leadoff single in the bottom of the first, but Wolcott settled in and got three straight outs to strand leadoff man Ben Bunting on third. Bunting, who went 3-for-4 with a walk in the series opener, slapped a hard-hit ground right back to the mound, where it ricocheted off Wolcott’s foot back to the first base line. Wolcott chased the ball to the line, barehanded it and flipped it over to first base, but his throw was out of Freiman’s reach and rolled into foul territory. Bunting advanced to second on the error and then to third on a groundout to the right side by Levi Michael, but got no further as Wolcott struck out Ackley and then induced a flyout from Seager to end the inning.

Sherlock increased Duke’s lead to 3-0 with a two-run homer in the top of the second for his first long ball of the season. Sherlock, who entered the game hitting .400 in his career against North Carolina, mashed the first pitch he saw to center field, where it cleared the fence to the right of the batter’s eye. The homer also sent in Duke shortstop Jake Lemmerman, who fouled off two pitches with a full count before drawing a leadoff walk. Hassan and Williams would knock out two more singles with two outs in the inning, but Warren got a break when Freiman lined out right at Bunting in left field to end the inning with two men on base.

Wolcott surrendered a weak single to UNC catcher Mark Fleury in the bottom of the second, but made quick work of the rest of the Tar Heel lineup that inning and kept Duke’s 3-0 lead intact. He ran into a jam in the bottom of the third with the bases loaded and two outs, but forced North Carolina five-hitter Gore to fly out to right field to strand all three runners. Michael knocked a two-out single for the only hit of the inning, but Wolcott followed that by walking three-hitter Ackley and cleanup hitter Kyle Seager to load the bases. Despite having the go-ahead run at the plate, Wolcott kept his composure and used just two pitches to force Gore to fly out to deep right field for the final out.

Unfortunately for Duke, Warren had settled into a groove and held Duke scoreless from the third through fifth innings. He surrendered a single to Gould to start the third inning, but got some help from behind the plate as Fleury gunned down Gould while he tried to steal second. From there, Warren sat down eight straight batters to take the game into the bottom of the fifth with Duke leading 3-0.

Wolcott, meanwhile, rebounded from the shaky third inning by shutting out The Tar Heels in the fourth and fifth. He sat down the side in order in both innings and struck out two batters during that span to keep Duke ahead 3-0 and extend his scoreless streak to 14 straight innings.

Gould broke up Warren’s hitless streak in the top of the sixth with a well-hit double to the left-center gap and advanced to third later in the inning, but was tagged out at the plate for the third out while trying to score on a pitch that sailed to the backstop. Gould, who reached base for the third time in as many plate appearances, took off for home when reliever Brian Moran fired his first pitch of the game past Fleury and to the backstop. Fleury was quick enough to grab the ball after it bounced off the wall and flip it to Moran, who applied the tag to Gould’s leg as he slid into the plate.

Wolcott sat down the side in order once again in the sixth, extending a streak of 10 straight batters retired and a run of six scoreless innings in the game. Wolcott’s pitch count sat at 73 after the sixth inning, which was right in line with his season average of 12.4 pitches per inning.

North Carolina finally got to Wolcott in the seventh, however, and scored two unearned runs on a two-run double by Graepel that cut the deficit to 3-2. The Tar Heels took advantage of a Duke throwing error in the inning, which happened when Mike Cavasinni slapped a ground ball to second base with a runner on first. Saade fielded the ball and fired to Lemmerman, who was covering second, but sent the ball wide of Lemmerman’s glove and into the outfield. Both runners moved into scoring position on the error, where they scored on the next at bat when Graepel chopped a ground ball over McCurdy’s head and down the left field line. Graepel would move over to third on an ensuing groundout to first base by Bunting, but Wolcott stranded him there by getting Michael to fly out to center field and keep Duke ahead 3-2. One of the runs allowed was unearned, but both ended Wolcott’s scoreless streak at 15 innings.

North Carolina returned the favor in the top of the eighth, however, by committing two errors that led to a Duke run that put the Blue Devils ahead 4-2. Seager made the first fault by booting a ground ball his way over at third base, which allowed Hassan to reach first. Williams then connected with a 1-1 fastball and roped it into left-center field for a double that moved both he and Hassan into scoring position with no outs. With Freiman stepping into the box, the Tar Heels brought in Bates to try and get out the jam. Bates managed to force a weak grounder to Seager out of Freiman, but Seager opted to try and throw out Hassan at the plate. His throw was wide right of Fleury and allowed Hassan to tap slide across the plate and give Duke a 4-2 lead. Bates would brush off the error and retired Duke’s next three hitters to keep the deficit at two runs, despite throwing a wild pitch that allowed Williams and Freiman to reach scoring position with one out.

North Carolina added one more run in the bottom of the eighth to trim the lead to 4-3, but had their shot at tying the game foiled by Saade and Williams, who teamed up to cut down the go-ahead run from scoring from third base. With Seager standing on third base after slapping an RBI double and moving over on a groundout, Cavasinni slapped a slow roller to second base where Saade fielded it and fired on one leg to the plate. Williams stepped out in front of the plate, dropped his left leg in front of the bag to block Seager and fielded Saade’s throw on one hop to tag him and keep Duke’s one-run lead intact. Wolcott stayed on the mound to start the eighth inning, but gave up a two-strike single to Ackley to start the inning. That prompted Duke to bring in Ness, who had his first pitch ripped to the warning track in left field by Seager for a double that moved Ackley over to third. Gould was able to get the ball into the infield quick enough to keep the runners from scoring, but Gore followed by sending in Ackley with a groundout to shortstop. The grounder was hit behind Seager and allowed him to move over to third before he was joined on the base paths by Fleury, who drew a full-count walk and was quickly subbed out for pinch runner Ryan Norton. Cavasinni then stepped up with the tying run on third and the go-ahead run at the plate, and slapped the slow roller to Saade, who threw out Seager at the plate. Saade’s throw gave Duke two outs in the inning, but runners still on first and second. Ness would end the threat by getting Baldwin to watch a backdoor slider drop in on the outside corner of the plate for a called strikeout and the third out of the inning.

Duke went back ahead by two in the top of the ninth, thanks to another North Carolina error that led to a two-out Duke rally. Duke would load the bases, following the error with a single by Hassan and a walk drawn by Williams, before Bates hit Freiman with an 0-2 fastball that sent in Duke’s fifth run of the game.

Needing just three outs to lock up the win, Duke let Ness stay on the mound to start the ninth, but he threw five of his first eight pitches out of the strike zone to walk Graepel. He was pulled with a 1-0 count against Bunting in favor of Hassan, who came in to face the top of North Carolina’s lineup. He finished off Bunting by getting him to fly out to left field, but threw a wild pitch in the process that allowed Graepel to move into scoring position. He followed the flyout by getting Michael to pop up to shortstop for the second out, but then surrendered a full-count single through the left side to Ackley that drove in Graepel and put North Carolina within one run of tying the game. That brought cleanup hitter Seager to the plate as the go-ahead run with two outs on the board, and he punched a single back up the middle to move Ackley over to second. Gore then followed by slapping a two-strike breaking ball to third base, where McCurdy fielded it and tried to get the force out at third base. He was just a half step too late, however, and could not beat Ackley, who slid head first into the bag to load the bases. That prompted North Carolina to bring in Tarron Robinson as a pinch hitter, but Hassan would force an inning-ending flyout off his bat where freshman Joe Pedevillano would field it for his second putout of the inning and the final out of the game.

With the series tied at 1-1, Duke and North Carolina will battle for the Carlyle Cup point and the series win on Sunday, March 22, at 1 p.m. at Boshamer Stadium. North Carolina will throw sophomore right-hander Matt Harvey (2.70 ERA), while Duke has not announced a starter.