DURHAM, N.C. (WNCN) — The Blue Devils used a combination of the long ball and power pitching to beat Virginia 4-2 and make the ACC Baseball Championship game for the first time in school history.
“Extremely happy for our guys they deserve this opportunity. They have persevered, they have stayed committed to each other they have stayed committed to the program,” said Duke head coach Chris Pollard. “Because of that they have given themselves an opportunity to make a really cool run here down the stretch.”
Joey Loperfido set the table and cleared it with a solo home run to lead off the game. The senior center fielder hit another solo shot in the third inning. On the day he was 4-5 with 2 HR’s, a double a single and 2 RBI.
“I didn’t have the best at bats against (Mike) Vasil the first go around when we played them a couple of weeks ago but I went back last night and watched the tape,” said Loperfido. “I just wanted to be on time with his fastball from the jump. I did that and kind of was more familiar with his slider/cutter pitch the second at bat.”
Loperfido is putting an exclamation point on a final season in Durham that almost didn’t happen. Not taken in last year’s COVID-19 shortened MLB Draft, Loperfido had multiple offers to start his career as a professional ballplayer. It’s a decision he mulled over for some time.
“I’ll never forget I was sitting on my back porch in June when Joe told me ‘hey coach I want to come back to Duke but I want it to be with a C on my chest I want to be a captain for this program’,” said coach Pollard. “He’s come back he has been a captain, he’s been a great player, he’s been a clutch player I don’t have enough superlatives for what he’s done and what he’s meant to this team and today was icing on the cake.”
Ethan Murray added a solo home run of his own in the third to give pitcher Luke Fox all he needed. The freshman, making his third start of the year went 7 innings, striking out 7 giving up just two earned runs and did not allow a single walk.
“That was huge for me especially coming off an outing last week where I really kind of struggled staying in the zone. I made it a huge point this past week coming into today to really stay aggressive and attack the zone all the time,” said freshman starting pitcher Fox. “I knew I had to establish the inside fastball with these guys coming off my outing from the last time we played them so that was really important for me to be able to mix all three pitches in the zone.”
“Your talking about a guy who won two state championships in Wisconsin high school football as a quarterback. (He) led his high school to back-to-back high school state championships as a quarterback and if you’ve ever seen highlights of the guys he threw it all over the field and he ran for scores,” said coach Pollard “He’s just got that football toughness that he brings out there to the mound with him and man that was on full display today.”
Jimmy Loper and Marcus Johnson shut UVA down the rest of the way to put Duke in the Championship game for the first time in school history.
“I told our guys it felt like after Wednesday’s win versus Florida State that was kind of mission accomplished with respect to building our resume for the NCAA tournament,” said Pollard. “Since Wednesday this has been about winning a championship and bringing hardware back to Durham and they are relishing that.”
The ninth-seeded Blue Devils (31-20) have now won 11 straight games and move on to play the winner of No. 2-seed Georgia Tech and third-seeded North Carolina State on Sunday.