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Duke stumbles against Wake Forest to drop opener 7-3

Posted Saturday, May 10, 2008

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Winston-Salem, N.C. - Ben Hunter struck out eight and held Duke to two runs on six hits over seven-plus innings to lead Wake Forest to a 7-3 win in the series opener Friday afternoon at Gene Hooks Stadium.

Hunter (3-5) retired his first 10 batters and gave up just four hits over the first seven innings before being taken out after throwing his 127th pitch in the eighth inning. His performance allowed Wake Forest (20-27, 9-15 ACC) to hold on to a slim two-run lead until the bottom of the seventh when the Demon Deacons scored four runs to blow the game open.

The heart of Wake's lineup, including three-hitter Allan Dykstra, cleanup batter Mike Murray and five-hitter Dustin Hood, drove in a combined six runs while designated hitter Willy Fox contributed the other RBI with a sacrifice fly. Hood finished 2-for-3 while right fielder Evan Ocheltree went 2-for-4 with a double.

Of Duke's seven hits in the game, three went for extra bases as center fielder Alex Hassan, left fielder Jeremy Gould and third baseman Ryan McCurdy each hit doubles. Gould's two-bagger sent in one of two Duke runs in the eighth inning with the other coming on an RBI single from first baseman Nate Freiman. The base knock extended Freiman's hitting streak to a career-high 16 games, which is the longest active streak in the ACC and matches Duke's longest tear of the season put together by senior Jonathan Nicolla. Freshman shortstop Jake Lemmerman accounted for Duke's other RBI with a sacrifice fly in the fifth inning.

Duke starter Andrew Wolcott (3-4) took the loss after giving up five runs (four earned) on five hits through six complete innings. After giving up a pair of runs in the first, Wolcott settled down to hold the Demon Deacons to one run over the next five innings before exiting in the seventh with two runners on base. Sophomore reliever Michael Ness then took over and gave up two runs of his own in the inning before closing out the game with a scoreless eighth.

With the loss, Duke (34-15-1, 8-15-1 ACC) temporarily swaps places with Wake Forest in the eighth spot in the ACC standings. Duke still has the opportunity to regain ground in the race for the last ACC Tournament bid if the Blue Devils can come away with the final two games of the series.

Hunter came out dealing in the first inning struck two of his first three batters faced on the way to retiring the side in order. He used just 14 pitches in the inning and fanned Duke's leadoff and three-hitter on four pitches each.

It took Wolcott a few pitches to get his control down for Duke, however, and issued a pair of free passes to start the game that eventually came back to haunt him. Wolcott opened the inning by walking Ben Terry and hitting Fox to put a pair on with no outs before Dykstra moved Terry to third base with a fly ball to right field. Wolcott responded by inducing a weak ground ball to the right side from Murray, but the roller was just slow enough to score Terry from third. Wolcott was able to tag Murray for the third out, but gave up an RBI single to Hood just five pitches later. Wake Forest almost scored another run on an ensuing double from Ocheltree, but Hood was thrown out at the plate from second base by Gabriel Saade who received the throw from Gould in left field.

Hunter continued to cruise in the second and sat down the next three Blue Devils, this time needing just nine pitches. Wolcott outdid him in the next half inning, however, and used just six pitches to retire the side in order.

After another perfect inning from Hunter in the third, Duke finally put a runner on base in the fourth after catcher Matt Williams fouled off two pitches on a 1-2 count before belting a single into center field. The Blue Devils were not able to do much with the one-out opportunity though, as Hunter struck out Freiman and induced an infield popup from Gould to end the inning.

Wolcott was just as effective in the bottom half of the fourth though, facing the minimum after erasing a leadoff single with his second pickoff of the season. Immediately after the pickoff, Wolcott forced the final two outs on three pitches, holding his pitch count to 60 through four complete frames.

Duke's troubles at the plate temporarily stopped in the fifth as the Blue Devils were able to cut into the two-run deficit on a sacrifice fly from Lemmerman. Lemmerman's RBI flyout to right field plated Nicolla after the senior designated hitter opened the rally with a seeing-eye single through the left side. McCurdy also helped out in the inning with a two-strike double that dropped just inside the left field line and moved Nicolla over to third just before Lemmerman's sac fly.

The Deacs responded in the next half inning with a sacrifice fly of their own that rebuilt their two-run lead back at 3-1. The run was unearned though, as nine-hitter Andy Goff was allowed to stay on the base paths after a fielder's choice ground ball up the middle ricocheted off the top of Lemmerman's glove and into the outfield. The error allowed Goff to advance to third and also broke a five-game errorless streak for the Blue Devils.

Hunter regained his form after the fifth and retired the side once again, picking up his seventh and eighth strikeouts in the process. Through his first six frames, Hunter retired the side in order four times and struck out at least one batter in every inning.

The Wake Forest starter ran into a jam in the seventh when a defensive error allowed a pair of Blue Devils to reach base with two outs. With Saade on second after singling and McCurdy on first on the error, Hunter took the situation into his own hands and fielded a ground ball back to the mound before lobbing the ball to first for the final out to keep the 3-1 lead intact.

After throwing 84 pitches over the first six innings, Wolcott began to have control problems and put the first two Deacs on base in the seventh with a walk and a hit batter. After Wolcott plunked Goff, Duke brought in Ness to inherit the runners on first and second with no outs. Ness came in to face Terry, who laid down a two-strike sacrifice bunt to advance both runners into scoring position before Ness lost a 3-2 battle against Fox and walked him to load the bases. With the bases juiced and just one out on the board, the Demon Deacon bats came alive, beginning with a two-RBI single from Dykstra that was followed by an RBI double from Murray and a sacrifice fly by Hood.

Wake Forest's four-run seventh ran the score to 7-1, but not for long as Duke put together a small rally in the eighth to score two runs and knock Hunter out of the game. Hassan scored the first run on an RBI single by Freiman that signaled the end of the day for Hunter, who fired 127 pitches over his seven-plus innings of work. Left hander Alex Wiesner came on to relieve Hunter and inherited runners on first and second with one out and promptly gave up an RBI double down the left field line to Gould. Gould's RBI two bagger, his 11th of the season, sent in Williams from second base and pushed Freiman to third, setting up another scoring opportunity for the Blue Devils. Wiesner finished off the rest of the inning unharmed, however, stranding both runners after retiring Duke's next two hitters.

Another highlight soon followed for the Blue Devils when McCurdy snagged a hard-hit line drive to third base in the eighth and fired over to first to complete Duke's 32nd double play of the season. The turn was the seventh of the season for McCurdy and the team-leading 22nd of the year for Freiman.

McCurdy's play would be the final highlight of the night for Duke after Wake Forest reliever Phil Negus took over in the ninth and sat down all three batters he faced to end the game.

Duke will have a chance to even out the series and keep their postseason hopes alive on Saturday, May 10, when the series continues at 1 p.m. at Gene Hooks Stadium. Sophomore southpaw Christopher Manno (6-0, 2.61 ERA) will take the mound for Duke opposite Wake Forest right hander Charlie Mellies (2-5, 6.22 ERA).

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