Blue Devils Shock Cal Behind Conine's Hit
Video DURHAM, N.C.—Changeups had flummoxed Duke freshman Griffin Conine all weekend.
California pitchers kept throwing them, and Conine didn’t blame them for it. He probably would’ve done the same. Conine simply couldn’t hit them. He stepped to the plate in the bottom of the ninth Sunday sporting an .000 career batting average—hitless in his first six collegiate at-bats.
But this at-bat was different.
With runners on first and second, score tied, 4-4, Conine had the chance to give the Blue Devils their second straight walk-off win against No. 8 Cal. He had the opportunity to seal an upset series win in the very first weekend of the season.
He was calmer than he thought he’d be—certainly calmer than his father, Jeff Conine, a former 17-year MLB standout who was sitting a couple of rows behind home plate, watching anxiously. Jeff has preached to his son to always look for the fastball.
“But if they’re telling you you’ve got to look for something else,” Jeff said, “you’ve got to look for something else.”
Griffin knew, in this moment, that it was time to look for something else. This time, he waited for sophomore righthander Jeff Bain to throw a changeup, and on a 1-0 count, he got it. Griffin dropped the bat head, laced a line drive to right field and, within seconds, was swarmed on the field by his screaming Blue Devils teammates.
You can see the video here. Griffin finally got his first collegiate hit—and he picked the perfect time to do it.
“I can’t even describe it,” Griffin said minutes later, standing in front of the Duke dugout at Durham Bulls Athletic Park. “It was unreal. Running down to first, knowing that we just won the game, and it’s a top 10 team in the nation is an unreal feeling.”
The feeling was much the same for Jeff and the Conine family, who excitedly greeted Griffin near the dugout and took a picture with him after the game.
“I was probably more nervous than him coming into that at-bat,” Jeff said. “I mean, I knew he was going to get a shot after the walk in front of him. I was just hoping he was calm and tried to put a good swing on it, and he did just that. “What a way to start off your college career, with a walk-off hit.”
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And what a way to start off the college season for the Blue Devils, who played a tight, competitive series against one of the premier teams in the country, winning Saturday night in 10 innings and walking off again the next day.
Duke excelled in all phases of the game, starting on Friday night with a dominant performance by junior ace Bailey Clark, who hit 98 mph and sat in the mid-90s in a tough-luck loss.
The Blue Devils got contributions from veterans such as first baseman Jalen Phillips—who hit a three-run home run Sunday—and newcomers such as Conine and Jimmy Herron, currently the team’s leading hitter (.400). With veteran starters Trent Swart and Brian McAfee joining Clark in the rotation, the Blue Devils have the chance to be competitive every weekend.
“We like being under the radar,” Griffin said. “I think everybody likes being the underdog because no one’s expecting you to do anything, and when you do, it’s a big surprise to everyone ... A lot of work went into this, and I’m glad to see it’s paying off.
“Getting two out of three against one of the best teams in the country, I think it’s going to be a big year for us.”
And it could be a big year for Conine, whom the Marlins drafted in the 31st round in 2015. He’s been around the game his whole life—benefits of having a two-time MLB all-star father. There’s a comfort that comes from those experiences.
“I can’t even count the number of games I’ve watched live,” Conine said. “Situations like this, I’ve only dreamt of being in, especially at the college level. “I was ready for it.”