Two three-run homers from third baseman Erikson Nichols and pinch hitter Rudy Maxwell sent No. 3-seed Duke to the next round of the Morgantown Regional tournament with a win after defeating No. 2-seed Texas A&M 8-5 on Friday.
Both home runs were part of the Blue Devils’ two four-run innings in the fourth and the eighth, with Duke holding a 8-1 lead for an inning.
With ace Graeme Stinson out with a hamstring injury, Princeton graduate transfer Ben Gross took over on the mound where he picked up his seventh win of the season. The righty allowed four hits, a single earned run and two walks in seven innings pitched.
“Pitching in games like this are the reason I made the decision to come [to Duke],” Gross said. “At Princeton it’s either win the Ivy League title or you’re not playing postseason baseball. As a sophomore we won the Ivy League title but I wasn’t a contributing factor to that team, but I really loved the experience, we were at Louisiana-Lafayette, and I really wanted to play in a game like this.”
A&M starting left-handed pitcher John Doxakis was not able to duplicate Gross’ success on the mound, allowing the Duke offense six hits and four runs through seven innings pitched en route to a loss. However, the junior also notched nine strikeouts in the contest.
It wasn’t until the fourth inning that Doxakis ran into his biggest obstacle. The fourth saw five straight hits that included a three-run homer from Nichols and then a single RBI reach from right fielder RJ Schreck.
“It was just one of those innings where I kind of got away from the scouting report we had,” Doxakis said. “You can’t leave mistakes over the plate or else they’re going to punish it. That’s all that happened that inning, [Duke] put some really good swings on some balls and knocked it around the park.”
The Aggies weren’t able to overcome the hitting woes in the game despite putting up five runs in the last five innings of the game. A&M's offense went just .194 from the plate.
After a single RBI from leadoff hitter Braden Shewmake in the fifth, A&M trimmed the Blue Devils’ lead in the ninth, earning four runs due to a pair of pitching mistakes and a couple of RBIs.
“I think it’s a shot of confidence for our offense,” first baseman Hunter Coleman said. “We’ve been struggling a little bit but just got to go and take something from them. Gives us a little bit of momentum going into tomorrow.”
Duke entered Morgantown with the highest-team batting average, and kept it up after recording 11 hits throughout the game.
The Blue Devils move on to the winners’ bracket where they will play West Virginia — who defeated Fordham 6-2 — on Saturday. The Aggies will face Fordham for the fourth time this season after hosting the team in College Station at the beginning of the regular season.
A&M and Fordham will meet once again on Saturday at Monongalia County Ballpark. First pitch is scheduled for 1 p.m. and will be televised on ESPN3.