WAREHAM, Mass.—At the Cape Cod League all-star game, surrounded by some of the best college players in the country, it was a pair of Duke teammates who shined brightest Saturday.
Outfielders Jimmy Herron and Griffin Conine were named MVPs of the East and West Division all-star teams, respectively. Herron delivered the go-ahead two-run double to help the East to a 5-3 victory in front of 7,163 fans at Spillane Field, while Conine went 2-for-4 with a two-run home run for the West.
"It was a ton of fun playing with other guys around the league that we've been playing against – really talented, good guys," Herron said. "Getting a win on top of that is nice."
Herron, a sophomore eligible for the draft and taken by the Yankees in the 31st round, is hitting .371/.463/.526 with 11 stolen bases and leads the Cape in batting this summer while playing for Orleans. He got the start for the East in center field and was retired in his first two at-bats Saturday before coming to the plate with the bases loaded in the seventh. He fought through a long at-bat to deliver a two-run double against lefthander Mitchell Miller (Clemson) that proved to be the difference in the game.
Herron fell behind Miller, but the righthanded hitter was able to foul off enough pitches to eventually get a pitch to hit.
"Once I saw all three of his pitches I thought I had an idea, just try and get something in play," Herron said. "I fouled off some tough ones, then he left a fastball middle-away, something I could handle a little better, so I put a good swing on that."
Conine said when he saw Herron coming to the plate in such an important situation, he knew the West was in trouble.
"I knew when he fouled three off with two strikes he was going to put something in the gap," Conine said. "Sure enough, 10 pitches later, it seemed like, he squared one up and got a two-run double. I expect nothing less."
Conine's big hit had come a few innings earlier, when the lefthanded hitter turned on a fastball up in the zone off righthander Joey Murray (Kent State) and lined it over the right field fence. Conine is hitting .309/.390/.553 with a league-high eight home runs this summer while playing for Cotuit.
Conine is the son of former major leaguer Jeff Conine, who played for Orleans in 1986. Griffin said his father told him not to put too much pressure on himself this summer, advice he has taken to heart.
"A lot of guys come up here and the competition is so good they psych themselves out and get in their heads," Conine said. "He said just do what you've been doing. Just play the game you've been playing all your life."
In addition to Conine and Herron, Duke was also represented in the all-star game by Cotuit shortstop Zach Kone (0-for-2). And the Blue Devils could have had even more all-stars. Lefthander Graeme Stinson ranks fifth in the league with 29 strikeouts in 15.1 innings, and Conine said he thought catcher Chris Proctor (.286/.340/.388)was deserving as well.
Duke was one of five schools with multiple players in the all-star game. Connecticut, Stanford, Wichita State and Wright State all had two players in the all-star game. Stanford's pair of lefthander Kris Bubic and shortstop Nico Hoerner were two of the day's other stars. Bubic started the game for the East and worked a perfect inning, including two strikeouts. His fastball sat in the low 90s and he mixed in both an impressive changeup and curveball. Hoerner went 1-for-2 in the game and was one of the standouts during batting practice.
Wichita State was represented by sluggers Alec Bohm and Greyson Jenista. The pair put on a show in batting practice, and Bohm drove a double deep to center field in the second inning, coming around to score the game's first run.
But, by the end of the night, the all-star game belonged to Duke. The Blue Devils in 2016 made the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 1961. While they did not make a return trip to the tournament this spring after going 30-28, Saturday was an indication of the program's progress under coach Chris Pollard.
Conine, Herron and Kone are all a part of an exciting rising junior class that will be keen to help Duke get back to regionals next spring.
"We've had a talented team the past two years, but still not quite there," Herron said. "I think this year we can do something special. You see me and Griffin here and Zach too. We're excited to get back to school and get going on that."