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Duke Provides the Fireworks in ACC Championship Win

No Santucci, no KJ pitching, no problem for Duke as they claimed their second ACC tournament championship on Sunday with a convincing 16-4 win over the Florida State Seminoles. Ben Miller and Devin Obee each hit a grand slams as the Blue Devil offense provided the daylight fireworks after their bats were stifled for much of last night's game.

With Jonathan Santucci recovering from injury and Kyle Johnson's arm being rested for next week, the Blue Devils turned to sophomore reliever James Tallon for his first career start. The lefty gave up a lead off bloop single to Max Williams before Cam Smith hit a monster backside home run to give the Seminoles an immediate 2-0 lead in the bottom of the first. After that, however, Tallon was fantastic, going 3 innings without giving up another in his role as an opener. He departed with a 5-2 lead and Duke controlling the game.

"It was one pitch that I missed there," said Tallon, referring to the Cam Smith home run in the first inning. "I just left the fastball middle that I was supposed to get in." The sophomore said he was glad it happened so he could go back out there and do his thing.

"I went back out there the next two innings and was just like, 'I'm going to be myself, I'm going to do everything I can to make sure that I get two zeros on the board (6:26) and do everything I can to put my offense in a position to win.'"

Tallon was informed the night before that he'd be making his first career start in a massive game that not only was for a championship, but had NCAA Regional hosting implications.

"I was really excited, but also, like, nervous," he said. "I mean, it's a huge game. I've never been on this sort of stage before, and I've never started in college. So spent the whole night thinking to myself, I'm going to go out there, anything can happen, but I'm going to try my best to enjoy it and embrace the moment. That's what I did.

After going down 2-0 in the first inning, Duke immediately responded with leadoff singles from Logan Bravo and Chase Krewson. Devin Obee worked a walk against Noles' starter Carson Dorsey to load the bases with no outs, then Dorsey hit Wallace Clark to put Duke on the board. He was replaced by freshman Noah Short after pitching into the 2nd inning.

Kyle Johnson doubled to left to drive in two more runs before Zac Morris struck out and Ben Miller popped up to second base. It looked like Florida State was about to get out of the inning with limited damage, but AJ Gracia delivered a 2 out single to drive in two more and give Duke a comfortable 5-2 lead. The freshmen trio of Gracia, Krewson, and Johnson went 3-3 in the 2nd inning with a double and 4 RBIs.

Penn transfer Ben Miller, who hit over .400 for most of the season, was just 3 for his last 29 when he stepped into the batter's box with the bases loaded in the 4th inning in what was still a 5-2 ballgame.

"Yeah, baseball is a really funny game," said the graduate transfer. "Coach has said it before. Once you think you've got it figured out, it humbles you pretty quickly. And that's happened to me here over the last few weeks. And coming into today, I was feeling a little bit better."

Ben Miller exploded out of his slump in a big way with a no doubt grand slam to left field to make it 9-2 Duke in the 4th inning.

"Honestly, I'm really relieved that I caught a barrel there.," the Durham hometown hero said of his home run. "The thing I think I figured out was that you shouldn't be thinking about anything [at the plate]."

Miller would end up going 3-6 with 2 home runs and 6 RBIs to lead the team. But Ben Miller wasn't the only one to hit a grand slam. Devin Obee hit his third home run of the tournament in the 6th to make it 14-4, and that was the backbreaker for Florida State.

"Yeah, just trying to be as relaxed as possible," Obee said after the game. "I'm pretty powerful, so I just got to let it come to me."

The junior centerfielder was named the tournament's MVP after going 7-14 with a triple, four home runs, and 8 RBIs. Charlie Beilenson and Alex Stone were also named to the All-Tournament team for Duke.

"It's been a long time coming, "Obee said. "Throughout this year, [with the] ups and downs, to hear my name called and to hear that I was the MVP amongst a lot of great players, was just an honor. I really take that to heart, I'm celebrating for today, and then tomorrow I'm going to forget about it and we're going to get back to work."

Unsurprisingly, the rubber-armed bullpen ace Charlie Beilenson was out there to close it out in the 9th despite Duke leading 16-4. It's well documented that the MBA graduate pitches more effectively when he pitches often. And with no game until Friday, it was necessary to get him out there. And seriously, was it ever going to be anyone else getting the final out in a Championship scenario for Duke?

With the win, Duke's chances of hosting should be greatly improved. It's hard to imagine a world where a team with that resume wins an ACC Championship doesn't get to host.

Florida State Head Coach Link Jarrett believes Duke should definitely be a host team in the NCAA Tournament.

"That's a good team, and I've said it all along," said Jarrett. "That pitching staff-- there were some pieces that didn't participate this week-- they went through this thing and mixed and matched and did a very nice job. That's a team that deserves to host. They have pitching, they swing the bats, they have enough power, and they defend enough. They're strong and should be a host."

Duke coach Chris Pollard was likewise adamant post-game about his team's merits to host a Regional for the first time in school history at Jack Coombs Field.

"We have the most quad wins of anybody in the ACC," he said. "Look at the rest of the teams that are in the mix to host. Outside of one through three, we have as good a resume, if not better, than anybody. I would challenge somebody to look up if a team had 20 aggregate wins in the ACC and not be a host. Twelve quad one wins, the most in the league, and 20 ACC aggregate wins. That's certainly a great resume."

The message to team going into the ACC Tournament, however, was not about the NCAA Tournament. Coach Pollard stressed the importance of enjoying the event and the experience. Prior to driving down last week, he used their last 2021 ACC Championship, also in Charlotte, to stress that message.

"The ability to dogpile on that field, Truist Field in Charlotte in 2021, was the best baseball experience I've ever been a part of," the now two-time ACC Champion Coach said he told the team. "And I want you to have that experience too. I want you to go out there and celebrate bringing a trophy back to your university. We were in the moment all week. We never once talked about the NCAA tournament."

The Blue Devils will enjoy their victory tonight as they head back to Durham, but it's business as usual starting tomorrow as they'll learn the identities of their opponents during the selection show tomorrow at noon. Whether or not they host, however, will be known tonight when the committee reveals the hosting sites at 8:30.

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