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Duke's Surprising Run to the Top of the ACC Coastal

(Photo courtesy of Duke Baseball)

Following an ACC Tournament championship in 2021 and making the NCAA Tournament in three straight seasons, Duke baseball struggled mightily in 2022, going 22-32 on the year and failing to qualify for the ACC Tournament. Expectations were understandably low heading into 2023, especially after star outfielder RJ Schreck transferred to Vanderbilt and big arm Luke Fox needed Tommy John Surgery following an injury in the fall. But with two weeks to go until the ACC Tournament, Duke is sitting atop the ACC Coastal Division with a 14-9 conference record. They are currently ranked #12 in College Baseball Central’s latest Top 25 and look poised to host an NCAA Regional.

When staff ace Jonathan Santucci went down with a season-ending injury on March 31st against Pittsburgh, Duke was 16-10 and 4-6 in the ACC. Losing their second big arm of the year, for a team with little expected pitching depth to begin with, should’ve been catastrophic. Instead, since Santucci’s injury, Duke is 16-4 and 10-3 in the ACC. That stretch includes multiple wins over Campbell, Boston College, and Virginia, each of whom are ranked in the Top 25.

The 2023 weekend rotation for Duke was expected to consist of Santucci, Fox, and Adam Boucher. With Fox going down in the fall, Kenyon graduate transfer Alex Gow slid into the rotation to pitch on Sundays. For the first part of the season, Santucci and Boucher would be joined by Gow, Ryan Higgins, or Jason White in the weekend rotation. Since Santucci was hurt, however, Duke has really unleashed their secret weapon: the bullpen.

It turns out that the lack of expected pitching depth for the Blue Devils was vastly underestimated, as they have relied heavily on their bullpen to win games. Duke starters rarely go deep into games, and it’s not uncommon to see Head Coach Chris Pollard go to a reliever as early as the 3rd or 4th inning.

Current weekend rotation members Gow, Higgins, and freshman Andrew Healy are more like openers than true starters. The Blue Devils then depend on the likes of Owen Proksch, Aidan Weaver, Gabriel Nard, and the aforementioned Boucher to get the game to the later innings, where sophomore Fran Oschell III and stud freshman James Tallon wait to close out the ballgame. The pitching staff ranks second in the ACC with a 3.62 ERA.

While the Duke bullpen has been fantastic, the play of their lineup should not be overlooked. Like fellow Northwestern transfers Ethan O’Donnell at Virginia and Sean Sullivan at Wake Forest, junior third baseman Jay Beshears has made a major impact in the ACC this season. The former Wildcat leads Duke with a 1.062 OPS, teaming perfectly with star shortstop Alex Mooney and catching stalwart Alex Stone at the top of the Blue Devil lineup.

There aren't many Duke players among the Top 10 of the ACC statistics, but it’s a well-balanced lineup with pop. Five of the regular starters have hit double-digit homers and feature OBPs over .950.

Duke’s remaining ACC games are against Georgia Tech and at #11 Miami. If the Blue Devils win both of those series, they’ll almost certainly win the ACC Coastal and earn themselves a home Regional in the NCAA Tournament. Don't be surprised if Head Coach Chris Pollard is voted ACC Coach of the Year as well.


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