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Duke baseball defeats Oral Roberts, stays alive in NCAA Tournament Norman Regional

Following his team’s NCAA Tournament-opening loss to UConn, Duke head coach Chris Pollard compared his 2024 squad to the one that won the 2018 Athens Regional after losing its first game.

“I have no doubt offensively we’ll bounce back,” Pollard said Friday.

He was right.

Duke conjured sixth inning magic Saturday, defeating Oral Roberts, 6-2, to avoid elimination in the NCAA Norman Regional and extend its season.

The Blue Devils (40-19) had several opportunities to score early — similar to its loss in the first game of the tournament — but couldn’t push anyone across.

Unlike Friday, they finally found gaps — and a handful of home runs — against Oral Roberts (27-32-1). The victory gave Duke its second 40-win season under Pollard, and the first since 2018.

The Blue Devils will play the loser of Oklahoma-UConn at 3 p.m. Sunday for a spot in the regional final later in the day.

“It means everything. Coach Pollard and the rest of the coaching staff do an amazing job with us, making sure we’re ready for every single game,” designated hitter Jimmy Evans said. “I love all these guys in this locker room. It’s a real brotherhood here, so it means the world to us.

“And, we’re not done yet. We’re ready to go (Sunday).”

It took four innings for Duke to get on board after stranding three runners in the first three innings. Catcher Alex Stone led off with a single and advanced to scoring position when Chase Krewson grounded out. Center fielder Devin Obee drove in Stone with an RBI single.

Two innings later, in the third time through the lineup, Stone added a leadoff double. Krewson and Wallace Clark recorded their first hits of the day and gave Duke a 3-0 lead.

Evans, a graduate transfer from Tufts, hit a two run-blast to right field, his first home run of the season, and put the Blue Devils ahead by five.

Pollard said Evans, whose sacrifice fly against Miami in the ACC Tournament started a rally, deserves his time.

“He’s been such an unsung hero for this team. He’s a tremendous source of energy. Our guys have so much respect for him,” the 12th-year head coach said. “I think guys on our bus would tell you if anybody deserves that home run moment, he does.”

Obee added insurance in the top of the eighth when he led off with a solo shot to right-center field.

Duke finished with 11 hits, three doubles, a triple, and drew three walks.

The Blue Devils’ pitching staff struck out nine batters and held the Golden Eagles to five hits — two were solo home runs.

Left-handed pitcher Jonathan Santucci made his first start for Duke since getting injured before the Georgia Tech series. The First Team All-ACC selection did not play in the ACC Championship due to a rib injury. Pollard told the media Friday that he planned to start Santucci but would limit his pitch count. He said Saturday Santucci was capped at 30 pitches.

“We weren’t going to take any chances with his health,” Pollard said. “This guy’s going to pitch in the big leagues.”

Santucci had four strikeouts, giving up one hit and a pair of walks in two innings of work.

“It’s definitely relieving to be able to go out there and help my team win. That was the focus for me,” Santucci said. “The second the injury happened, I was trying everything I can to get back into a moment like this. That was a possibility and because every single kid in that locker room is one of my brothers and always will be. I just felt like they deserved it for me to try my best.”

Four other pitchers made appearances, with freshman Kyle Johnson leading the team with three innings pitched. The lefty gave up two hits and one run, but he struck out 3 of 11 batters faced.

Using multiple arms worked in Duke’s favor. Pollard’s crew got to face the same pitcher several times, but the Golden Eagles weren’t able to get comfortable.

Pollard noted the way on-base percentages jump when batters face a pitcher multiple times. Despite the Blue Devils’ injury bug, not being able to throw its starters for more than a few innings has paid dividends.

“I think that, if anything, has been one of our strengths,” Pollard said, “the fact that we’ve used a lot of different arms, and we haven’t gone particularly deep with our starters in games.”