Duke baseball makes history with ACC Championship win

Duke

Photo from Duke University

CHARLOTTE, N.C. (WNCN) — The Blue Devils waited 60 years but the waiting is over as Duke topped N.C. State Sunday 1-0 to win the 2021 ACC Baseball Championship title game at Truist Field.

It’s the fourth baseball championship in school history but the first since 1961 and since 1973 when the ACC began deciding its champion via a tournament.

“I’m so elated for these guys — honestly I feel numb,” said Duke head coach Chris Pollard. “It was an incredible ballgame and what a great championship atmosphere.”

“It’s really special and I am really proud of this team,” said Duke senior outfielder Joey Loperfido. “When you are 10-17 in the ACC and got a .500 overall conference record and go and sweep two series and then you take care of business like this in the ACC Tournament it’s really special.”

Cooper Stinson along with relievers Jimmy Loper and Marcus Johnson combined to shut out third-seeded N.C. State.

Stinson entered the game with an ERA of 5.87, stopped the Wolfpack giving up just three hits through six innings while striking out six and walking just one. Loper followed, allowing one hit in 1 1/3 innings before Johnson came on with one out in the eighth and finished the game.

Johnson yielded a leadoff single to Jonny Butler in the bottom of the ninth, but sat down the next three batters for his seventh save of the year.

“I knew I had to come in here and do my job and execute pitches to the best of my ability you know obviously you don’t come in expecting to throw that well based on my previous outings,” said starting pitcher Cooper Stinson. “I had my entire team behind me. I had seven guys behind me. I had Mike (Rothenberg) behind the plate for me and I just used everyone and I am really glad things worked out this way.”

The Blue Devils finally broke through in the fourth when Ethan Murray led off with a double, took third on RJ Schreck’s deep fly ball to center and scored on another long fly by Peter Matt to deep right.

“Both teams really pitched and really competed on the mound — it was really hard to string any offense together,” said Pollard. “Great job by Ethan Murray with two strikes. He got a change-up up and hit the double.”

N.C. State appeared like they would tie the game in the bottom of the sixth after leadoff hitter Austin Murr reached third base after a couple of Duke errors and Butler launched a high fly to relatively deep center with one out.

Murr initially left early without tagging up, and then had to retreat and hold at third as Loperfido fired a strike to the plate.

“He may have misread the fly ball and wanted to get a better jump than he probably needed to get,” said N.C. State head coach Elliott Avent. “He left early, he is a smart player — he realized he left early and went back to retag and knew he shouldn’t chance it.”

The Wolfpack fell short despite receiving an incredible effort on the hill from Matt Willadsen and Chris Villaman, who combined on a four-hitter while striking out 12 and walking just two.

“I thought what Matt and Chris both did was outstanding on this environment on this stage,” said Avent. “Both of those young men grew up tremendously today they have been good all year for us but they took another step in their growth process today.”

The Wolfpack suffered their first shutout loss in 67 games, going back to an 11-0 loss to Florida State in the 2019 ACC Championship’s pool play round on May 24, 2019.

It was the first time the ACC Baseball Championship title game has been decided by a 1-0 score. It was the fourth shutout in the tournament final overall and the first since Florida State blanked Clemson 10-0 at St. Petersburg, Florida, in 1997.

N.C. State (30-17) will now await Monday’s NCAA baseball tournament selections (noon, ESPN2) in expectation of its 32nd all-time postseason bid.

“As much as we would have liked to have got this ACC Championship there is a bigger prize out there,” said Avent. “If we can reflect on this game and learn not only from this game but this tournament and have a good week of practice we are looking forward to playing next weekend.”

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