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Vanderbilt rocks Duke. Blue Devils fall a win shy of College World Series again

Duke’s Pollard calls Vanderbilt ‘a blueprint’ for his program

After his team lost to Vanderbilt in the NCAA Nashville super regional final on Sunday, June 9, 2019 Duke coach Chris Pollard touted the Commodores and discussed his team finishing one win short of the College World Series in back-to-back years.
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After his team lost to Vanderbilt in the NCAA Nashville super regional final on Sunday, June 9, 2019 Duke coach Chris Pollard touted the Commodores and discussed his team finishing one win short of the College World Series in back-to-back years.

Duke needing three pitchers to get through the first three innings painted a bad picture of its chance to knock off No. 2 Vanderbilt Sunday.

The three hurlers surrendering nine runs in the NCAA Nashville super regional title game meant the Blue Devils were not going to end their 58-year College World Series drought.

The day after Vanderbilt pitcher Kumar Rocker no-hit Duke in game two, the Commodores offense powered a 13-2 win that eliminated the Blue Devils at Hawkins Field.

Vanderbilt (54-11), after being pounded 18-5 by Duke in the Nashville super regional opener on Friday night, won the final two games of the series and is headed to the College World Series for the fourth time in the last nine seasons.

An impressed Duke coach Chris Pollard said the Commodores are more than capable of adding another NCAA title to go with the one they captured in 2014.

“I said before the super regional started I thought they were an historically good team, meaning I thought they were one of the best teams in college baseball in the last five or 10 years,” Pollard said. “They certainly looked like that over the last two days. Absolutely have a team that can go out to Omaha and win it.”

Duke’s College World Series drought, dating back to 1961, continues.

This is the second consecutive year the Blue Devils fell one win short of the College World Series. Texas Tech won two of three over Duke at the Lubbock super regional to advance last year.

“It obviously stings a lot to get this close two years in a row, to be one game away from Omaha two years in a row is very difficult,” Pollard said.

When the Blue Devils (35-27) pounded Vanderbilt on Friday night, they put themselves in great position to finally return to Omaha, Nebraska. But the Blue Devils never lead while losing two straight to see their season end.

Rocker’s gem Saturday night delivered Vanderbilt a 3-0 win and the Commodores slammed five home runs in Sunday’s Nashville super regional deciding game to coast. Duke’s pitcher made things worse for themselves by issuing six walks, uncorking four wild pitches and hitting two batters with pitches.

“They are a really good hitting team,” Duke senior relief pitcher Hunter Davis said, “so you can’t keep giving them those free bases. Eventually they are going to make you pay. I think eventually that stuff comes back to bite you and that’s what happened today.”

Austin Martin hit two home runs over the first two innings while Pat DeMarco’s three-run homer punctuated Vanderbilt’s four-run first inning against Duke starter Bill Chillari.

By the time Cary’s Stephen Scott, a former Cardinal Gibbons High School player, smacked a solo shot in the fourth inning, his team was well on its way to winning.

“The ballpark played a lot different today,” Pollard said. “That doesn’t take away from anything they did or the way they swung the bat. But there were some balls that left the ballpark today that wouldn’t have left the ballpark yesterday or the day before. They jumped on us early. We got in some bad counts. That was part of it.”

The game emphatically turned Vanderbilt’s way in the first inning.

Vanderbilt starting pitcher Mason Hickman struck out all three Duke batters he faced in the top of the inning.

Martin smacked a lead-off home run off Chillari to start the Vanderbilt first. An infield hit and walk preceded DeMarco’s one-out, three-run home run to left field that put the Commodores in control with a 4-0 lead.

Chillari walked Vandy’s lead-off man in the second inning, Ty Duvall, and his day was done after recording only three outs.

Jack Carey replaced him and, one out later, gave up Martin’s second home run, a high blast to left field that put Vanderbilt up 6-0.

Designated Rudy Maxwell got Duke on the scoreboard with a solo home run in the third.

But Ty Duvall’s RBI double in the bottom of the third put the Commodores up 7-1.

Julian Infante followed with an RBI single to left and, with Duke trailing 8-1, that was it for Carey.

Matt Dockman took over but the two-out onslaught continued. He walked Martin before JJ Bleday lined an RBI single for a 9-1 Commodores lead.

Duke couldn’t keep up. Though Maxwell and Michael Rothenberg hit solo home runs, the Blue Devils struck out 16 times Sunday. That’s after Rocker fanned 19 Duke batters during his no-hitter Saturday night.

Pollard gives Rocker credit for his standout game and added his team, perhaps, never recovered Sunday.

“We got dominated by a really terrific arm,” Pollard said. “Today I don’t know if going through that kind of put us in a funk a little bit and you start to press? I thought we laid off some of Hickman’s breaking balls early. Or I thought we were seeing that pitch better. We are making the adjustment. And then we just swung through some fastballs. As we did that, that pressure mounted on us.”

Duke senior centerfielder Kennie Taylor, sent to a Nashville hospital Saturday night after a Rocker fastball hit him in the face, returned to play Sunday for Duke. Wearing a batting helmet with a full cage mask to protect his face, Taylor struck out four times.

But after missing a game in last year’s Lubbock super regional with a leg injury, Taylor said he desperately wanted to play Sunday.

It proved to be the final game of his Duke career.

“Once all the scans and images showed up that it was all clear, I was all-in to play this game,” Taylor said. “I missed one game in the super regionals last year and I wasn’t going to miss another one.”

An Illinois native, Steve Wiseman has covered Duke athletics since 2010 for the Durham Herald-Sun and Raleigh News & Observer. Prior to his arrival in Durham, he worked for newspapers in Columbia and Spartanburg, S.C., Biloxi, Miss., and Charlotte covering beats including the NFL’s Carolina Panthers and New Orleans Saints, University of South Carolina athletics and the S.C. General Assembly.
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