DURHAM BULLS ATHLETIC PARK/DURHAM The ACC baseball conference season starts tonight, and they seem to make schedules a lot differently in this sport than in most others.
Duke, which has moved 18 home games to the Durham Bulls’ digs this season and is playing many of the rest at USA Baseball’s Coleman Field in Cary, is hosting archrival UNC tonight in the opener of their three-game series. Yep, the weekend of the ACC Basketball Tournament.
And the rains seem to be ending just in time for the first pitch.
The Tar Heels, who are looking for their fifth straight trip to the College World Series, are 11-2 and ranked as high as No. 11 nationally. Duke, coming off its best season in 15 years last year, is 9-3.
The Tar Heels dominate a slugfest, winning 21-9 with their highest run and hit totals of the season as they snap Duke’s eight-game winning streak and give the Blue Devils their first home loss.
Michael Ness (1-0, 2.25) is on the mound for the Blue Devils, with Matt Harvey (2-0, 1.80) pitching for UNC.
The Tar Heels hit Ness hard in the first inning. Ben Bunting leads off with a single and takes second on the error by left fielder Mike Carroll. With one out, Levi Michael hits an RBI single to center and steals second. Brian Goodwin strokes a two-out RBI single to right, and then Ryan Graepel rips a 2-1 pitch between the Snorting Bull in left and the foul pole to make it 4-0 for the senior’s third career homer.
But Duke comes right back for three in the bottom of the frame. Jake Lemmerman and Carroll draw back-to-back walks before Will Piwnica-Worms smacks a two-run double to left. Piwnica-Worms takes third on Jeremy Gould’s fly ball to right, then scores on Eric Brady’s grounder to short.
UNC tacks on another run in the second, as Dillon Hazlett doubles to right, takes third on Bunting’s single to right and scores on Tommy Coyle’s grounder to second.
But Duke keeps pace in the bottom of the frame with a manufactured run. Dennis O’Grady singles to left after a foul pop error to first baseman Hazlett extends the at-bat. Joe Pedevillano moves him on a sacrifice bunt to third before a pair of wild pitches scores the runner.
The Tar Heels pour it on with a nine-run third inning on six hits. UNC scores six earned runs off Ness before getting three more off Ben Grisz, including Goodwin’s two-out, three-run homer into the right-field stands to make it 14-4.
UNC adds three more in the fourth off Will Currier, with the biggest hit an RBI double from Goodwin.
Duke keeps producing on offense, adding two runs in the bottom on three hits including a pair of infield singles to make it 17-6.
Somehow, the fifth inning is scoreless. But Duke adds another in the sixth on Eric Brady’s two-out single, and UNC tacks on two more in the seventh to make it 19-7.
Duke gets RBI singles from Carroll and Jeremy Gould in the seventh and it’s 19-9.
But the Tar Heels make it 21-9 in the eighth on a pinch-hit single from Tarron Robinson.
They said it …
UNC coach Mike Fox: “Anytime you win in this league on Friday it’s big. We didn’t expect to do that offensively, but we needed it. We have trouble keeping Duke off the scoreboard. It was a good night for us to score a lot of runs. Getting our leadoff guy on the first 4-5 innings was important. And we hadn’t hit a lot of home runs, but we got two tonight and that was good to see. … This is a beautiful place. We enjoyed playing the ACC Tournament here last year. It’s in great shape. The weather was a little iffy tonight, but it’s a beautiful place..”
Duke coach Sean McNally: “I just told the guys you learn a lot more about yourselves and your club in a game like this than when you’re on the other end. It’s easy to play when you’re blowing somebody out. I like the way we competed all the way through. Obviously we’ve got to play better defensively and much sharper on the mound to beat Carolina, but I liked the way we continued to compete all the way through. … This park has been great. As the weather gets warmer and the sun starts to shine a little more, it’ll be even better.”
Goodwin: “I think everybody was ready to come out and start ACC play and was more focused today and it seemed to work out for us. It was nice to get that home run. I thought I got that one pretty good. I think it’s real important to win the first game of the series. It makes them play harder and us play harder, too.”
What does it all mean?
That both teams have plenty of offense, and that the Tar Heels were much better in their first meeting.
Stars of the game
Play of the game
Goodwin’s three-run homer in the third.
UNC leads 172-91-3.
Duke: Lost 1.
UNC: Won 2.
Duke vs. UNC, Saturday, 1 p.m.