Dangerous Duke Poised For Big FinishWeekend Spotlight
DURHAM, N.C. — Duke is well on its way to the best regular season in program history. At 36-11 overall, 15-8 in the ACC, the Blue Devils are ranked 13th in the D1Baseball Top 25 and 18th in the RPI. If they win a home series against fourth-ranked North Carolina this weekend, there’s a pretty strong chance they’ll wind up hosting a regional for the first time ever.
And yet, heading into the exam break after a series win over Virginia Tech two weeks ago, Duke really hadn’t gotten peak performances yet from a number of its best players. It seemed like just a matter of time before Duke started firing on all cylinders — and once that happened, this team had a chance to be scary-good.
“I know, it’s exciting,” Duke coach Chris Pollard said. “For the first two-thirds of the season, even though we were winning ballgames, we would get back to the office and meet as a staff and feel like, ‘We’re better than this. We’re better than this.’”
The Blue Devils scrimmaged last Friday during the exam period, and Pollard told his team he thought they were in a really good place offensively. Then they returned to action Sunday and blasted Gardner-Webb by a combined score of 23-8 in a pair of victories, and then played a very good, complete game in a 5-2 win against Big South contender Liberty on Tuesday.
“I think we’re playing the best we’ve played all year,” Pollard said after the Liberty win. “These last three games against two quality nonconference clubs, we’ve had really good at-bats, really locked-in at-bats.”
The most obvious and most important development is the recent hot streak of first-team preseason All-America outfielder Griffin Conine. After a big sophomore season and a standout summer in the Cape Cod League, Conine entered his junior year widely regarded as a potential top-10 overall pick, and a very likely first-rounder. But he struggled to find his footing in the first half of the year, striking out at a troubling rate and hitting in the low .200s. Even as the son of a longtime major leaguer (Jeff Conine) who grew up around the game, Griffin acknowledged that the pressure of his draft year weighed him down for much of the season.