KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WNCN) — The Duke Blue Devils finished up their baseball season dropping Sunday’s regional game to Liberty in the Knoxville Regional. Dealing with COVID-19 they struggled at the start but came back to put up a record of 33-22 culminating in their third straight NCAA Championship appearance and the school’s first ACC title since 1961.
“In the middle of April, we were 6-13 in the ACC. We had given up 32 runs in back-to-back ACC losses, and I don’t think anybody gave us much of a chance to make the ACC Tournament, much less win an ACC Championship and advance to a regional,” said Duke head coach Chris Pollard. “Our kids wouldn’t quit on themselves, they wouldn’t quit on each other, they wouldn’t quit on this program. They’re too committed for that. And I’m incredibly proud of what we did to be in this position.”
Liberty jumped out to an early lead as the Blue Devils struggled to get things going early. The Flames scored eight runs on just four hits in the first inning to take an 8-0 lead. Duke pulled two back in the third as Joey Loperfido hit his eighth home run of the season. Liberty added a run in the bottom of the fourth and fifth to make it a 10-2 ballgame at the time.
“There’s no quit in this group, and gosh, if we don’t hit into five or six double plays, that’s hard to do. If we don’t do that, we probably put up a number of runs and we get ourselves back in the game despite the bottom of the first,” said coach Pollard. “If we want to talk specifically about this game, I was frustrated because I thought we executed some really good pitches to (Cam) Locklear with two outs and only one run across the board. Now that said, we have to do a better job after we don’t get off the field there. Minimizing the big inning has been a problem for us when we’ve struggled this year, and it got us in both of the losses here in Knoxville.”
Senior Joey Loperfido led Duke at the plate going 3-4 with a two-run home run and a double. His two-run home run in the third inning was his 200th career hit as a Blue Devil. No the ending he wanted but proud of what he and his teammates accomplished not just this year but over his Blue Devil career.
“I mean, (I’m proud of) winning a championship this season with everybody and just kind of not rolling over when things weren’t going our way in April. You know, obviously, things didn’t work out this weekend the way we wanted, but to at least fight back and to go make a run and win something, it means the world. So, I’m proud of myself,” said Senior Joey Loperfido. “You know, coach when I was 15 watched me play. He called me after and said, ‘Hey we want to offer you.’ I didn’t have any other offers, and I wasn’t seeing any other schools, no matter what I made him think. But I kind of feel like I’ve been through hell and back with him, and I feel like I’ve grown as a man with him. So, if I could go back and do it all over again the same way, I would.”
In a year of ups and downs, blowouts and comebacks when asked if he could narrow down one of his best memories from the year it was tough.
“I gave our First Pitch Banquet speech this year on Zoom, and I kind of talked about that—when everything’s said and done, it’s not anything really on the field, it’s a bunch of moments you didn’t really think of when you were experiencing them,” said Loperfido. “It’s too many to count. But that’s kind of what’s made this special, just the people you share the experiences with, the places you go, the time you get with each other. That’s really what’s been special.”