Duke Stays Hot, Routs Virginia In Pivotal ACC Series Opener

Image credit: (Photo courtesy of Duke)

Over the last month, Duke and Virginia have been going in opposite directions. When the calendar flipped to April, the Cavaliers were 24-2 and in first place in the ACC’s Coastal Division at 8-2. The Blue Devils were 16-10 and four games back in the conference standings at 4-6.

Four weeks later, Duke has surged past Virginia. The Blue Devils on Friday opened the first-place showdown between the two teams in Charlottesville with a 17-5 rout of the Cavaliers. The win extended Duke’s winning streak to eight games, the second-longest active streak in the country. Duke is just the second team this season to beat Virginia at Disharoon Park, where the Cavaliers are 25-3.

The Blue Devils pounded out 21 hits and all nine starters recorded at least one hit. Catcher Alex Stone (4-for-6, 4 R, HR) and outfielder Giovanni DiGiacomo (4-for-6, 2 2B, 4 RBI) led the offense.

Duke’s big day at the plate gave Virginia a taste of its own medicine. The Blue Devils’ 17 runs were the most any team has scored against the Cavaliers this season, but Virginia is no stranger to big run totals of its own. The Cavaliers came into the game averaging 9.3 runs per game, the most in the ACC and seventh nationally.

Duke got things started early thanks to a two-run, first-inning home run from MJ Metz. The Blue Devils pushed their advantage to a 5-1 lead in the third inning and that’s where the score stayed through the middle innings. But in the seventh, Duke knocked out starter Brian Edgington and then went to work against the Virginia bullpen, piling up 12 runs over the final three innings. Virginia scored four runs of its own in the final three innings, but it wasn’t enough to keep pace.

Duke’s offense showed an impressive relentlessness Friday, continuing to add on and fight deep into the game. The Blue Devils batted around in both the seventh and ninth innings as they blew the game open and made sure there would be no comeback from the Cavaliers.

Duke’s pitching staff contained the Virginia offense, led by a solid start from righthander Alex Gow. He held the Cavaliers to one run on three hits and two walks in four innings, before handing the ball off to the Blue Devils’ bullpen. Duke’s pitching strategy has relied heavily on its relievers this season, and its bullpen has delivered with a 3.20 ERA.

Duke is now 14-2 in April, a surge that has propelled it not just to first place in the division but also to No. 7 in RPI. The Blue Devils (30-12, 13-8) have long since blown past their win total from last season (22) and are on pace for just the second 40-win season in program history. With one more win this weekend in Charlottesville, they’d be favored to host regionals for the first time in program history. For a program that hadn’t been to the NCAA Tournament for 50 years when Chris Pollard took over as coach following the 2012 season, this kind of season is the latest leap forward.

Virginia, meanwhile, is 10-8 in April and just 4-8 in ACC games. It’s lost six of its last seven conference games as its powerful offense has been slowed. The Cavaliers (34-10, 12-10) have averaged just five runs per game in that stretch, a sharp decrease from the 7.33 runs it was averaging in ACC play during its first five conference series.

The Cavaliers have not only been caught by Duke in the ACC Coastal standings, they’re now also level in the loss column with Miami (27-16, 13-10) and Virginia Tech (25-14, 11-10). While Virginia still ranks No. 12 in RPI, its standing as a potential regional host has slid in recent weeks and the Cavaliers will need a strong finish to earn homefield advantage in the NCAA Tournament.

The two remaining games in the series will be critical for both teams. Another win in Charlottesville would help push Duke ever closer to hosting and a potential top-eight seed in the NCAA Tournament. Virginia, meanwhile, is looking to stop its skid and bouncing back Saturday to level the series would be a big start. Much will be on the line when the series resumes Saturday at 4 p.m. ET.

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