Oh, so close: Duke ties with 2-run PH homer in 9th, loses in 12th

May. 24, 2014 @ 06:08 PM

Duke’s breakthrough season fell one heartbreaking game short of the program’s first-ever appearance in the ACC championship final.

Miami beat the Blue Devils 6-5 in 12 innings Saturday at NewBridge Bank Park in a pool play game that Duke needed to win in order to play for the title.

The Blue Devils (33-25) tied the game with a two-run homer with one out in the ninth by freshman Cris Perez and had a runner on third in the 12th when Matt Berezo struck out looking for the final out.

“I’m certainly proud of our team, proud of our fight,” Duke coach Chris Pollard said. “I’m not disappointed in them, I’m disappointed for them. These guys fought like crazy.”

No. 4 Duke has never made the final of the ACC Tournament, which began in 1973. No. 6 seed Maryland will play No. 9 seed Georgia Tech in today’s 1 p.m. final.

The Blue Devils won 16 ACC games to tie a school record set in 1994, and its four ACC series sweeps matched its combined total from 1995-2012. But a bad non-conference schedule sunk the Blue Devils to No. 82 in the RPI, so they likely needed the ACC’s automatic bid to make the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 1961.

Duke opened its first ACC Tournament in five years by losing to No. 5 Clemson 5-3 on Wednesday and beating Georgia Tech 6-0 on Thursday.

Against top seed Miami (41-17), the Blue Devils trailed from the start after giving up two runs in the first inning, but sent the game to extra innings in improbable fashion.

Perez had never homered at Duke and hadn’t recorded a hit since April 17 when he came in as a pinch-hitter to face second-team all-ACC closer Bryan Garcia (6-4), who hadn’t allowed a home run all season.

Perez caught Garcia last year at Christopher Columbus High School in Miami and seemed to have a good read on his former teammate, making solid contact on two foul balls before hitting a home run over the rightfield wall.

It was a thrilling moment for the Blue Devils, but it turned out just to prolong Duke’s eventual elimination.

Blue Devils closer Robert Huber pitched 3 2/3 scoreless innings, but Andrew Istler (8-8), the expected Sunday starter, came in for the 12th and gave up a leadoff double to Miami freshman Jacob Heyward, the brother of Atlanta Braves star Jason Heyward.

Heyward, who went 3 for 4 after entering with a .143 average, was sacrificed to third and scored on a wild pitch. Zach Collins added an important insurance run with a two-out homer to make it 6-4.

Down two in its last at-bat once again, Duke made one final charge when second-team all-ACC selections Jordan Betts (walk) and Chris Marconcini (single) reached with one out. After Ryan Deitrich flied out, Mike Rosenfeld’s bouncer went under the glove of shortstop Brandon Lopez, allowing Betts to score and Marconcini to reach third.

But Javi Salas struck out Berezo to complete the four-hour, 23-minute game and likely end the most successful Duke season in decades.

“I don’t know how many people outside of our team expected us to do this, but we’ve talked about this and pointed towards it and felt like ... (it) was a realistic step,” Pollard said. “Fortunately I have a group of veterans who were tough enough to take that step. And what I mean by that is when you’ve struggled for a long time sometimes the hard part is getting over the hump. These guys were tough enough to fight to get over the hump and they battled through adversity early, they had injuries, kept fighting and, again, I couldn’t be more proud of our seniors.”

The Blue Devils started five seniors and 92 percent of their hits come from upperclassmen. Their ERA of 3.15 entering the week was the program’s lowest since 1971.

Hurricanes coach Jim Morris, who has spent the past 32 seasons at Georgia Tech and Miami, said that this was the best Duke team he could remember.

“I think they’ve got a talented club, starting with their pitching staff,” Morris said. “They’re well coached. I’m very impressed with the direction that program is headed, and they’ve got a great product to sell and a great AD in Kevin White that likes baseball. I know him personally and (he) wants to do well and I think they’re only going to get better.”

NOTES — Duke will learn its postseason fate for certain on Monday when the NCAA Tournament selection show airs on ESPNU at noon.