Betts' blasts enable Duke to hold off Wake in ACC thriller
Jordan Betts’ solo home runs in the sixth and eighth innings appeared nothing more than icing on the cake as Duke stretched a 4-0 first-inning lead to 6-0 and Wake Forest down to its final four outs.
But Betts’ second blast turned out to be the game winner as Wake launched a furious rally against three Duke relievers scoring on a pair of two-out, two-run homers in the bottom of the eighth and closing to within 6-5 with two down in the ninth and the potential tying run at third base.
But Duke closer Robert Huber got Wake’s Nate Mondou to fly out with runners on the corners to end it and pick up his ninth save. Starter Trent Swart (4-1) got the win with seven scoreless innnings.
The win gave Duke the fourth best record in the ACC with a game remaining in its three-game set at Wake Forest (Sunday, April 27, 1 p.m.).
The ACC teams with the 10 best ACC records advance to the ACC Tournament in Greensboro May 20-24, but only the top six advance to the double-elimination round May 21-24.
The Atlantic Division and Coastal Division champions receive the top two seeds in the tournament. As of Saturday morning, Florida State led Clemson by 3-1/2 games in the Atlantic and Virginia and Miami were tied for first atop the Coastal, four games up on third-place Duke.
The Nos. 7-10 teams must play one-game play-ins to the double-elimination event. The play-in games will be played May 20.
The series at Wake Forest is considered crucial to Duke’s hopes of avoiding the play-in round since Duke’s final six ACC games offer bruising challenges in No. 19 Miami May 9-11 at Durham Bulls Athletic Park and at No. 5 Florida State May 16-17 in Tallahassee, Fla.
Junior Trent Swart (4-1) turned in seven scoreless innings to help Duke (27-17, 14-9 ACC) to its eighth consecutive victory. In his longest outing since returning from injury, Swart scattered six singles and struck out nine. The left-hander struck out at least one batter in each frame, extending his scoreless inning streak to 17.
After Duke tallied four runs on four hits in the first, Betts added a pair of solo home runs down the stretch to account for the Blue Devils offensive production. The Blue Devils took a 6-0 lead into the bottom of the eighth before Wake Forest (26-20, 12-11 ACC) scored five runs over the final two innings to threaten the Duke advantage.
After retiring the leadoff hitter, Wake Forest starter Garrett Kelly (1-2) ran into trouble as six straight Blue Devils reached base to give Duke a 4-0 cushion in the first. An Andy Perez base hit began the rally before Kelly walked both Betts and Chris Marconcini to load the bases. Duke then received three consecutive bases-loaded base hits, one each from Aaron Cohn, Matt Berezo and Mike Rosenfeld.
“I thought we had really good at bats early,” said head coach Chris Pollard. “Kelly got us in some two-strike counts and we just did a really good job of battling and came up with some big hits.”
Duke was unable to add to its 4-0, stranding seven runners over the next four frames. The Demon Deacons threatened for the first time with runners at the corners in the fifth, but Swart induced a groundball to escape the jam.
Betts proceeded to send a solo shot to left center in the top of the sixth and added a second homer in the eighth to put Duke up 6-0. The home runs were Betts’ third and fourth of the season, bringing his career total to 16.
“We talk a lot about how there are no meaningless runs,” Pollard said. “We left 11 guys on base. We had our opportunities to push the lead out and didn’t do it. In this ballpark, the way the ball flies, you just have to take every opportunity you can to put a team away. [Wake Forest is] a good team with some power in their bats. They ran a couple out of the yard late and made it a close ballgame, so those two home runs by Betts were really important.”
The Demon Deacons again looked to rally as Will Craig and Conor Kiniry both singled to start the seventh. However, Swart was able to once again escape unscathed. The Carlsbad, Calif., native struck out the next two batters looking before Evan Stephens chopped one back to the mound for the final out.
“Trent [Swart] was dominant,” Pollard said. “He had an unbelievable ballgame. Pitched great. That was the furthest he’s gone since the injury. I was really impressed with the job he did in the seventh inning.”
Duke’s comfortable six-run lead dwindled to two in the bottom of the eighth. Wake Forest rallied for four runs with two outs after Nate Mondou and Kiniry both sent two-run home runs to right.
A Matt Conway RBI single in the bottom of the ninth plated Ben Breazeale, who drew the leadoff walk, to trim the lead to 6-5. With runners at the corners, senior Robert Huber got Mondou to fly out to center for the final out, preserving the win and picking up his ninth save of the season.
The Blue Devils and the Demon Deacons go head to head in the series finale Sunday. Duke’s Michael Matuella (1-1, 1.59 ERA) takes the mound against a Wake Forest’s Connor Kaden (2-3, 4.37 ERA).