Durham, NC – It took 13 innings and nearly four and a half hours, but Duke made school history as it opened play in the 2018 Atlantic Coast Conference Baseball Championship with a 6-2 win over Wake Forest.
The Blue Devils pushed four runs across the plate in the top of the 13th to turn back the Demon Deacons and reach the 40-win mark for the first time since the university formally began fielding a baseball team in 1897.
Duke (40-14) will now continue pursuit of its first ACC Championship since the league went to a tournament format in 1973. The fourth-seeded Blue Devils will face No. 5 seed Louisville (41-16) on Friday at noon, with that winner advancing to face Pitt in Saturday’s 1 p.m. semifinal game.
Wake Forest ended its season at 25-32 with Thursday’s loss.
The Blue Devils’ decisive 13th-inning burst began with a base hit by Griffin Conine and continued two outs later when Wake Forest reliever Antonio Menendez hit both Kennie Taylor and Steve Mann with pitches.
Back-to-back walks to Jack Labosky and Jimmy Herron forced in runs to put Duke up 4-2, and Chris Proctor then singled up the middle off Tyler Witt – Wake Forest’s fourth pitcher of the afternoon – to bring home two more runs and cap the scoring.
Bryce Jarvis (5-1) earned the win on the mound for Duke following a tag-team effort in which both starter Ryan Day and four relievers pitched effectively.
Wake Forest went 1-for-21 at the plate during the sixth through 12th innings, and Jarvis did not allow a hit or a walk while striking out six batters in three innings. Blue Devil hurlers struck out a total of 17 batters and twice struck out the side. Graeme Stinson nearly matched Jarvis’ bullpen effort, allowing no hits and one walk in his 3.1 innings stint.
Menendez (0-5) took the loss for the Demon Deacons.
Duke scored the go-ahead run across the plate in the top of the ninth, but was denied on the closest of plays. With two outs, Joey Loperfido doubled to center field and Taylor followed with a base hit to left. The Demon Deacons’ Christian Long came up with a perfect throw to the plate, and the sliding Loperfido was called out as he attempted to elude catcher Logan Harvey’s tag.
The call was close enough to warrant a replay review of nearly five minutes, but it wound up standing, and the teams headed to the bottom of the ninth still tied at 2-2.
The Blue Devils left a runner on third base in both the 10th and 12th innings before finally breaking through in the 13th.
Labosky and Proctor each collected with two and two RBI for Duke, which finished with 11 hits on the day. Wake Forest leadoff hitter Patrick Frick went 3-for-5, while Bobby Seymour was 2-for-5 and drove in the Demon Deacons’ runs with a two-run double in the third.
Duke post-game press conference
CHRIS POLLARD: I am exhausted, and I did not play. I don’t know how these guys were able to grind through that. That was an incredibly fatiguing game. But what a job by our bullpen. Just looking at the numbers, I think eight innings pitched, three hits, one walk, 13 or 14 strikeouts. Just an unbelievable job by our bullpen to keep us in the ballgame. We had a lot of opportunities we didn’t capitalize, and finally we got a break late and made the most of it. Just very, very proud of the job by our bullpen.
Q. Top of the 10th bases loaded, nobody out, you come up empty. That’s a kick to the solar plexus. How were you able to maintain your composure and go back out and get a 1-2-3 and get back at it?
GRIFFIN CONINE: Yeah, I think our bullpen really helped with that. Like you said, it’s a crushing blow. You’re looking to get at least one there, and we came up with none. But I think our bullpen was so electric and did a great job getting us back in the dugout that we weren’t too worried. We knew they were going to keep the ballgame right where it was, which is what they did, and we were back in the dugout, I think we had a 1-2-3 inning, and we were right back in it, and then we were back trying to score more runs. I think you could chalk it up to our bullpen being elite and how well they pitched today.
Q. What’s the least amount of time you need to warm up?
JACK LABOSKY: Probably around 10 pitches or so. I think it helps being at third making throws over and over. Yeah, I get ready pretty quick, and usually it’s on short notice, too.
Q. I’m not sure I’ve ever seen anybody warm up while they were on base.
JACK LABOSKY: Yeah, that’s what Mr. Baron said outside, too. He’s not sure anyone has ever seen that in a baseball game. So I’m glad I’m the first, you know.
Q. Jack, you’ve been here four years; what does the 40th win mean to you as far as that accomplishment?
JACK LABOSKY: I think it just shows where the program has come from in the four years I’ve been here and under Coach Pollard’s guidance. 40 wins is a big milestone. It’s the mark of an elite program. I think getting that 40th win today, even though this game may not have meant as much in the ACC Tournament, it’s one of those games where we could have came out and just kind of rolled over, let it happen, and just looked forward to tomorrow. But getting that 40th win, it’s a big milestone for us as a team, and I think as a program going forward, it’ll be looked back upon as a big milestone.
Q. Jack or Griffin, more than 40 wins, you guys now have the opportunity to play in a semifinal on Saturday. How do you evaluate that chance and what it could mean to a season that’s already set some records?
GRIFFIN CONINE: Yeah, I think like Jack said, 40 is an awesome number, and it’s real big for this program. But at the same time, we’ve got a lot more work to do. We’re trying to win as many games as we can this tournament and end up hosting a regional. That’s our next goal. And so 40 is nice, but at the same time, we’re looking for 41, 42, as many as we can get. It’s kind of just a quick milestone that you can enjoy for a day and then kind of move on to the next game, and that’s what we’re going to do.
Q. Your coach echoed it, just talk about just gutting out through four hours out there in the heat today. It would have to be real taxing out there.
GRIFFIN CONINE: Yeah, it was — like he said, it was a grind. It was one of those games that was going pretty quick, actually. We were on pace for probably two and a half hours through nine, which is flying, and then it just kind of kept on going. But like I said, our bullpen made it real easy on us, I think. That game could have ended up being close to five if we got a game that’s dragging or our bullpen is not doing a good job of being in the zone. But they kind of made it seem a lot quicker than it was, I think. We were back in the dugout so quick that we got to cool off, and I think that eventually helped our offense and helped us kind of stay in the moment and get the win.
JACK LABOSKY: Yeah, earlier in the season if you’ve hung around, we’ve had a lot of four-hour ballgames. It’s nothing real new. I think the difference today was it was a good fight the whole time, and that’s kind of draining. Sometimes in a blowout one way or the other, those four-hour games, you can kind of lay back and sometimes you’re not all locked in the whole time. With a game like this, 2-2, you’re locked in the whole, and that’s where most of the fatigue comes from, but I think we handled it real well.
Q. Coach, I think you rolled out all four of your big bullpen guns here today. Obviously this game meant a lot for you guys even though it didn’t mean anything for the ACC Tournament. Chasing that regional host thing, or would you have played it that way regardless?
CHRIS POLLARD: No, we would not have. I don’t know that in the absence of an opportunity to host that we would have pitched any of those guys. As much as we want to be playing on Saturday, our ultimate goal is to get to Omaha, and the best opportunity for us to do that is by playing baseball in Durham next week. We were careful to make sure that Ethan and Jack didn’t do anything to prevent them from throwing tomorrow, so both those guys will be live for us tomorrow and ready to extend. You know this stuff as good as anybody. I’d be curious, I asked Ashley last night to research had an ACC team ever won 18 ACC games and not hosted a regional, and she could only come up with two times in the history of the ACC and the NCAA tournament that an 18-win ACC team had not hosted a regional, and now we have 19.
I think we made a very strong statement today about our opportunity to be playing baseball in Durham next week.
Q. I wanted to ask you about the format. You described the game as exhausting, a grind, and yet it played no bearing on whether you get to play on the weekend. Tomorrow’s game with Louisville is everything. Coach Walter just said he thinks the format will be changed. How do you feel about it?
CHRIS POLLARD: Well, there is — when you go to 12 teams and you continue to have pool play, there’s no perfect formula. But I think that this formula, it gives us the best option in a couple of different areas. Number one, it always ensures that we have meaningful games on Saturday. In the previous pool play situation, we had two teams potentially playing on Saturday that had no chance to win their pool, and that’s a tough situation for everybody, but certainly for the atmosphere of the tournament.
Now we always have meaningful games on Saturday. You’re never going to play more than four games in the week, so you’re not in a position where you’re going to cash your pitching staff potentially for the next week.
And so I — granted, we’ve played well in this format over the last — that’s 3-1 we are in this format, 3-1 in pool play in this format over the last two years, so it’s been advantageous for us.
But I like it. Is it perfect? No. But I think the pluses far outweigh the cons in this format.
Q. I’m going to use one of your favorite words here. Seems like it happened yesterday, but clearly Ryan didn’t have his best stuff today, but he grinded —
CHRIS POLLARD: Yeah.
Q. He fought it out. He gave you guys a chance, kept working on it. Can you address his performance?
CHRIS POLLARD: Yeah, I think if you asked him and he were sitting here, he would say that was maybe his worst stuff of the year. But what an unbelievable job by a senior captain of staying in the moment, staying in the fight, executing pitches one pitch at a time, and you used a word and I would have used it if you hadn’t, he grinded his way through five innings. We looked up at the end of five, we’re right there in that ballgame, and that’s a job well done by a senior captain.
Q. How do you feel like Mitch lines up against Louisville tomorrow?
CHRIS POLLARD: Well, they’re playing exceptionally well right now. That’s the thing. I’m so impressed with Stowers and his progress as a player. We saw him in Louisville 13 months ago, and he has grown so much as a player.
And what a job by Dan McDonnell to lose all the guys that they lost from last year’s team and be in this position. You could make a compelling case that Louisville has played as well over the last four weeks as anybody in the country, not just in the ACC. So we’ve got our hands full.
Obviously we’re seeing a guy in Wolf that’s been really, really good. I have really liked our approach against lefties of late. I thought we had a great approach against Connor Thomas in Atlanta this past Friday. We really — I thought that was maybe as good of an approach as we’ve had against a lefty. And then the next day we had a really good approach against Hurter, another left-hander. So I like the way we’re swinging the bats against lefties, but we’re seeing arguably as good of a lefty as we’ve seen all year. They’ve got Smiddy and Bordner rested and ready to go down in their bullpen, so we’ve got a difficult task in front of us.
But the one thing you know about Mitch Stallings is he’s going to compete like crazy. He lives for ballgames like this. The bigger the stage, the more he enjoys being out there on the mound, and I have no doubt that he’s going to come out and really compete for us.
Q. Chris, just to revisit the format once more, considering four teams after their first game could not advance, it’s a de facto single-elimination tournament. Would you be in favor of a straight single elimination with four byes for the top four teams?
CHRIS POLLARD: Like what the SEC does, and then move to a double elimination from there?
Q. Actually straight single elimination through, play two games on four days and you still have the semis on Saturday and final on Sunday?
CHRIS POLLARD: I would want to look more closely at it, but I think the things that we have to do for the health of our league and putting ourselves in the best position to be successful next week is make sure that we only play three games a day, so we only have three ballgames per day, and we make sure that a team doesn’t have to play more than four games to get through Sunday so that you’re not running the risk of putting guys in a difficult position, do I bring a guy back who threw on Tuesday or Wednesday, do I really stretch my bullpen thin to try to stay in this thing.
You know, I definitely look at that, but again, I think the format we’ve got right now has got a lot of pluses.
Wake Forest post-game press conference
TOM WALTER: Obviously disappointed in the way the season ended, going 0-2 in the tournament. Certainly not our plan. But obviously happy with the way the guys competed today. Griff obviously threw the ball really well. Rayne Supple right behind him threw the ball really well. So two great outings, gave us a chance to win. We just didn’t get it done offensively. We had chances in the first five innings off of Day, the lead-off hitter on four of the first five innings, and just couldn’t really push anything across.
We’ll build on it and come back a better club next year.
Q. Griff, it looked like once Matt came out to get you, you had a moment with all the infielders and then came off the field. Just take me through what you’re feeling and the emotions there.
GRIFFIN ROBERTS: Yeah, just kind of taking a moment to appreciate all the hard work all those guys put in working behind me every week. Those are your brothers. I’ve been here with them for the last eight months, so you grow relationships with those guys, and that’s who you fall on. Might be my last one with them, so you get emotional. I’m going to miss them, all of them, each and every one of them. Tough goodbye.
Q. Griff, it looked like you were throwing a lot of changeups again today. Was that the case? I know that was the case last week.
GRIFFIN ROBERTS: Yeah, I think I made something like five or six. Not really as heavy as it has been in the past few weeks. Lots of fastballs today. I didn’t throw an off-speed pitch until the third inning, the last batter in the third inning, so that’s a little bit atypical of me. Usually I rely on the off-speed and then kind of the fastball, but today was fastball heavy and then off-speed later in the game.
Q. We spoke last week, Griff, about if you were going to come out of the game, it had to be Coach Walter come out to get you, but that wasn’t the case today, it was Matt. Why the difference today?
GRIFFIN ROBERTS: Yeah, so obviously you know we’re not advancing after this game, and I was at a low pitch count; I was at 80-some pitches and could have kept going, but for me, as far as a perfect game, no hitters, I think for me more important was just giving Rayne the opportunity to pitch. As a teammate and as a friend, he deserves the opportunity after all the work he’s put in to pitch in front of the crowd that was here, and I wanted to make sure that he got that chance, and he did, and did well with it.
Q. Tom, what is your feeling about this tournament format? This is the second year you guys have used it. Is there a negative, positive, what you like or don’t like about it?
TOM WALTER: I think there’s probably a consensus among the coaches that we won’t stick with it. I don’t think anybody is in favor of it quite honestly. The problem is there’s no perfect format really. I’m not sure what the answer is. None of the coaches, especially the coaches that are secure in their postseason fate or they know they’re going to be in the tournament, they don’t want to get into a tournament where they play five or six games. So that happy medium between being able to play three or four games and having a format like this where there’s a lot of meaningless games like today, I don’t know what the answer is, but I think in general, I’m guessing we’re going to vote something else in this coming fall.
Q. What direction do you think you’ll go?
TOM WALTER: I assume we’ll go back to some sort of pool play that will be just a little different, I imagine. I don’t think we’ll get away from pool play, but that’s just a guess. I’m not sure what’ll happen.
Q. What was the mindset coming into today’s game? It seemed watching you and the guys prior to the first pitch, y’all seemed like a loose bunch.
TOM WALTER: Yeah, we were. You know, and any time Griff is on the mound, we feel like we’re going to win, so we certainly wanted to compete for him. He’s gone out there and battled each week for us on Friday and given us a chance to win every single Friday. There wasn’t a single game this year where Griff didn’t leave the game and we had a chance to win, and today was no exception. So certainly we’re not going to lay down when we’ve got this guy on the mound.
Q. Griff, how would you characterize this season as a whole and as a team?
GRIFFIN ROBERTS: Yeah, I mean, it’s disappointing. One through 30 or whatever our roster ended up being, it’s disappointing. Ups and downs, with seniors, you know, being friends with them, being teammates with them, it’s up and down for everybody. To not have your team there at the beginning and kind of get it towards the end is tough. That’s not how you wanted it to — not how you paint the picture at the beginning of the season. That’s not really how we wanted it to work out, but it is what it is.
I still had a fun time. The reality of it is it’s still a game, and it’s supposed to be fun. I think today was an embodiment of that. Everybody was having fun. Everybody knew that the game didn’t mean anything, but it was probably one of the funner games we’ve had this year.
Q. Obviously a great kind of final performance here for Griffin and Rayne. When you look at the way that their season has unfolded, Griffin getting the chance to start finally and Rayne taking that huge jump forward as a junior, what do you kind of attribute their success to, and how do you kind of overall evaluate their development this year?
TOM WALTER: Well, it’s their hard work, first and foremost. Griffin, nobody works harder than he does between starts. I mean, every week, regardless of how his outing went or how many pitches he threw, he gets his side work in, he gets his lifting in. He doesn’t miss any of those days, and he’s just dedicated to it. And again, he’s a competitor and a gamer. Off the field, it’s really good, and then on the field, he wants the ball, and he’s a guy he’s not afraid to make big pitches in big situations, and if it doesn’t go well, he just keeps coming.
And then with Rayne, same thing. I think the closer role was good for Rayne, gave him a chance. I think that outing against Carolina was good where he got a chance to throw seven innings and hold his velocity through there. Griff is going to be a top-30 pick here coming up soon, and Rayne I imagine is going to be a fourth- or fifth-rounder. To have those two guys on your staff in the front and the back is pretty good.
Q. Coach, what led to Christian Long getting the start in left field, and your thoughts on the play that set the game into extra innings?
TOM WALTER: Yeah, Christian has been swinging the bat pretty well. I was on the fence whether to play him yesterday, decided to go with Shane Muntz yesterday, and Shane’s at-bats weren’t great, so gave Christian the opportunity today. We’re a better defensive club with him in left and Chris Lanzilli DH’ing, so that was another factor, as well. When you’ve got your guy on the mound, you want to have your best defensive club out there.
And it was a heck of a throw. It was a great throw in that situation, and it gave us a chance. We had a chance to walk them off, but give their pitching credit. That’s why Duke is really good. Their bullpen is really good. It’s hard to score off of any one of their bullpen guys.