March 22, 2009

Courtesy of Duke Athletics

CHAPEL HILL, N.C.Nate Freiman and Jeremy Gould each drove in three runs, and Will Piwnica-Worms mashed his first career home run to lead Duke to a 10-9 win and a series victory over No. 1 North Carolina Sunday afternoon at Boshamer Stadium.

Freiman and Gould each went 2-for-5 and combined for five RBI as part of a seven-run second inning for Duke (14-7, 5-4 ACC). Piwnica-Worms knocked out three hits and scored twice while accounting for the other two runs in Duke’s big second inning with his first career home run. Senior Tim Sherlock also launched his second homer of the series in the fifth inning, which put Duke on top 9-1 at the time.

The Blue Devils knocked 15 hits in the game and never trailed, thanks to the efforts of starting pitcher Ryan Knott (2-0) and a quartet of relievers, including closer Alex Hassan, who locked up his second save of the series. Knott went a career-long 5.1 innings in his third career ACC start and held the Tar Heels (17-4, 5-3 ACC) to just one run over his first five innings. He was pulled in the sixth and gave way to relievers Dennis O'Grady, Michael Ness and Eric Pfisterer, who, despite a late rally by North Carolina that saw the Tar Heels put up eight runs from the sixth through eighth inning, kept Duke on top until Hassan got the final three outs in the ninth inning. With the win, Duke brings in one point in the Carlyle Cup standings, cutting North Carolina’s lead to 11.5 to 6.5. The series win over North Carolina (17-4, 5-3 ACC) is the first for Duke since 2001.

Hassan also went 2-for-4 with a double and a pair of runs, giving him two or more hits in every game of the series. A 6-4 ,200 pound two-way outfielder, Hassan batted leadoff in all three games and finished 7-for-14 with three runs in the three-game set. The performance raised his batting average to .460 on the season and extended his hitting streak to nine games.

Duke catcher Matt Williams also hammered three singles from the two-spot for Duke and drove in a run for his third RBI of the series. Williams, who entered the series batting .375, went 3-for-4 in both of Duke’s win over North Carolina and raised his batting average to .417 in the process. He also had a hit and a run for the fifth straight game and did not allow a single wild pitch to get by him on Sunday.

North Carolina starter Matt Harvey (3-1) lasted just two innings before Duke knocked him out of the game with six hits and seven runs in the seventh. Harvey struck out just one Blue Devil and got only six outs from his 15 batters faced before reliever Patrick Johnson took over for the next four innings. Johnson, Brian Moran and Nate Striz tossed the final seven innings and held Duke to three runs on eight hits.

The Blue Devils had trouble getting North Carolina first baseman Dustin Ackley out the entire series, as he knocked three hits on Sunday – including a triple – to contribute to a .533 average for the three-game set. He, right fielder Garrett Gore and catcher Mark Fleury each drove in two RBI each in Sunday’s game.

The Blue Devils jumped on Harvey early and went ahead 7-0 with a seven-run second inning that included a pair of two-run homers by Piwnica-Worms and Gould and a two-run single by Freiman. It was the first career home run for Piwnica-Worms, who ripped the first pitch he saw down the left field line to score Duke second baseman Gabriel Saade, who also singled, and put Duke on top 2-0. Piwnica-Worms became the second Blue Devil in the series to launch his first home run of the season, joining Tim Sherlock, who mashed a two-run shot in the game two win on Saturday. His home run would not be the end of Duke’s rally, however, as the Blue Devils loaded the bases with two walks to McCurdy and Williams and a single to Hassan and to start a two-out rally in which Duke put five more runs on the board. Freiman sent in a pair with an RBI single to left-center field and then trotted around the bases just one pitch later when Gould mashed a three-run bomb over the left field wall. It was the second home run of the series for Gould, who mashed an extra-base hit for the fourth straight game. Harvey followed by allowing a double down the right field line to Lemmerman, but finally got out of the jam by forcing Saade to pop out to first base in his second at bat of the inning.

After going down in order in the first inning, the Tar Heels mounted a two-out rally of their own and loaded the bases in the bottom half of the second, but got nothing out of it as Knott forced Brett Thomas to fly out to center field for the third out. Duke shortstop Jake Lemmerman saved a run in the inning by making a diving stop on a ground ball hit in the hole by Mike Cavasinni. By keeping the ball in the infield, Lemmerman held Gore on third base, where he was left stranded after Thomas’ flyout.

North Carolina opted to go to the bullpen after Harvey’s seven-run second inning and brought in Johnson to face the bottom of Duke’s lineup. Johnson could not shut down Duke’s bats, however, and gave up a single to Piwnica-Worms and a two-out walk to Hassan that set the table for a two-out, run-scoring single by Williams. Williams laced his base knock through the right side to send Piwnica-Worms from second to home, where he slid in to beat Garrett Gore’s throw from right field.

North Carolina finally got on the board in the third, thanks to a triple to deep center field by Ackley that was the second of two straight hits for the Tar Heels. With two-hitter Levi Michael on first after singing back up the middle, Ackley mashed Knott’s 0-1 offering to deep center field where Piwnica-Worms tracked it, but could not haul it in as he crashed into the wall. The ball bounced off the top of his glove just as he reached the warning track and then off then ricocheted off the fence, allowing Ackley to cruise into third with his sixth hit of the series. Knott quickly rebounded to get two straight outs, however, snatching a line drive that was hit right back at him for the second out. With Michael still on third, Gore pulled a ground ball to McCurdy, who fielded the ball 10 feet behind third base and fired across the diamond just in time to throw out Gore for the third out.

Knott followed by retiring the side in order in the fourth, recording his third strikeout of the game in the process. He got some help from his second baseman Saade, who made two tough plays on slow-rolling ground balls hit his way. On both plays, Saade charged the rollers and fielded them in the infield grass with little time to get them over to first base. Both times, however, he made strong throws on the run to first base to get the runners.

Sherlock reclaimed Duke’s eight run lead with a solo home run in the top of the fifth, which was his second of the series after he launched a two-run bomb in Saturday’s win. Sherlock’s long ball came on the second pitch of the inning and cleared the right field fence. It was the third home run of the game for Duke, which ties a season high set against UNC Greensboro on March 4.

Knott stayed on through the fifth and used just eight pitches to sit down the side in order. Knott, whose longest outing coming into the game was four complete innings against Miami, reached the five-inning mark for the first time in his two-year career. His scattered just five hits through the first half of the game and had thrown just 72 pitches heading into the sixth inning.

Duke knocked out two more hits in the sixth, but left both runners in scoring position to keep the score at 9-1 heading into the bottom of the sixth. Williams opened the frame with a single, his third of the game, while Gould followed with a two-strike knock that rolled through the left side of the infield. Johnson rebounded to force two straight outs and keep the pair of Blue Devils from scoring.

Knott came out again in the sixth to face the middle of North Carolina’s lineup and gave up a single to Ackley and a double to Seager that jump-started a five-rally for the Tar Heels that put them back in the game with the score at 9-6. With Ackley and Seager on second and third and no outs, Gore drove in the first run of the inning with a ground ball through the left side that was just out the range of a diving Lemmerman. With runners at the corners after the single, Fleury followed with a ground ball to the right side that Freiman fielded and threw over to second base. Freiman's throw hit Gore in the arm, however, and rolled into the outfield to allow the runners to stay on first and second with no outs. Seager scored on the play to run the score to 9-3. With runners on first and second and still no outs on the board, Ryan Graepel then ripped a ground ball to third base, where McCurdy fielded it and stepped on third to force out the lead runner for the first out of the inning. One out away from escaping the jam, Knott then hit Mike Cavasinni with a pitch to load the bases, which prompted Duke to bring in O’Grady to inherit the bases-loaded, one-out jam. Thomas was ready for O’Grady though, and ripped his 0-2 offering into center field for an RBI single. O’Grady responded by striking out leadoff man Ben Bunting for the second out, but followed by walking Michael to reload the bases. That brought up three-hitter Ackley, who had already knocked a triple and a single in his first two at bats. Ackley made that three hits on the day with a two-strike RBI knock through the right side that sent in North Carolina’s fifth run of the inning and ran the score to 9-6. Duke then brought in Ness, who took on another bases-loaded situation, but forced Seager to pop up to Lemmerman to end the inning.

With the momentum shifted their way, the Tar Heels brought in Moran to face the bottom of Duke’s lineup, and he shut down Duke’s seven through nine hitters in order. Moran used just 12 pitches, struck out one and did not let a ball leave the infield.

Fleury trimmed the deficit two runs for North Carolina with a solo home run in the bottom of the seventh that cut Duke’s lead to 9-7. Fleury’s bomb just cleared the left field wall in front of the scoreboard and was one of two hits in the inning for the Tar Heels. Graepel clocked a double down the first base line for the second hit, but was left stranded on third base after Ness sat down two straight to end the inning.

With their former eight-run lead now trimmed to just two, the Blue Devils brought the top of their lineup to the plate for what would be their final turn of the game. Duke’s best bats came through when needed, as Freiman drove in Duke’s 10th run of the game with an RBI double off of UNC reliever Nate Striz. Hassan started the rally with a leadoff double – his second hit of the game – and got pushed into scoring position by Williams, who knocked the first pitch he saw to the right side of the infield for a groundout. With Hassan on third and Freiman stepping to the plate, North Carolina called on Striz, who Freiman promptly welcomed to the game with a first-pitch double down the left field line. The RBI double was Freiman’s second RBI hit of the day and put Duke ahead 10-7.

The Tar Heels also had the top of their lineup coming to bat in the bottom of the eighth with a three-run deficit to overcome, and they came through with two runs that cut Duke’s lead to just one run at 10-9. The Blue Devils gave North Carolina an extra out to work with in the inning after committing their second error of the game, which led to two unearned runs, one of which scored on the error and the other on a one-out sacrifice fly by Gore. Duke’s error came on a potential double play ground ball that Lemmerman fielded, but threw into right field when trying to get it to Saade at second base. The error came with runners on first and second and let Bunting, who walked to start the inning, score from second base, and Michael, who was hit by a pitch, move over to third. Eric Pfisterer, who started the inning in place of Ness, then got a fly ball from Gore, but it was deep enough to send in Michael on the tag-up before Pfisterer got a ground ball from Fleury that ended the inning.

Striz would retire Duke’s next three batters in order to bring the game into the bottom of the ninth, where Duke brought in Hassan to get the final three outs of the game. Hassan, who closed out the game two win on Saturday, got North Carolina’s first two batters out, inducing a deep flyout by Graepel before getting Cavasinni to chase a high 2-2 fastball for out number two. With just one out between Duke and a series win over the top-ranked team in the country, Thomas stepped into the box as the tying run and put even more pressure on Hassan by drawing a five-pitch walk. Thomas was quickly subbed out for pinch runner Ryan Norton, who got his lead off of first base with Bunting coming to the plate as the go-ahead run. Hassan’s first pitch to the North Carolina leadoff man was a ball – his fourth straight outside of the zone – but he came back with a strike on the inside corner to run the count to 1-1. Bunting took his next pitch the other way to left field, but Gould was there to chase down the fly ball in shallow territory to close out the game and lock up the series win.

Duke will now host a pair of non-conference games against Alabama A&M at 3 p.m. on March 24-25 at Jack Coombs Field. In-town rival Wake Forest will then head to Durham for a three-game series on Friday through Sunday, March 27-29. Game two of the series against the Demon Deacons will air on Fox Sports South.