DURHAM, N.C. – Duke broke open a 1-0 game with a six-run bottom of the eighth and took the opener of a three-game series by a 7-0 count over Bucknell on Friday at Durham Bulls Athletic Park. The late rally spoiled a terrific performance from Bison starting pitcher Connor Van Hoose, who allowed just a run on three hits while striking out nine over six innings.
Van Hoose, the Patriot League Preseason Pitcher of the Year, locked up in a pitchers’ duel with Duke southpaw Adam Laskey. Van Hoose had retired six in a row, four by strikeout, until his lone blemish, a two-out solo homer by freshman catcher Michael Rothenberg in the bottom of the fourth.
Meanwhile, Bucknell put some runners aboard early in the game against Laskey, but Duke’s No. 1 starter settled in through the middle innings. Dominic Toso led off the game with a single up the middle, but one out later was caught stealing. Keifer Rawlings singled in the second, but the rally was thwarted by a 6-4-3 double play. Evan Madigan singled and swiped second in the third but was stranded. That would be Bucknell’s last baserunner until a Luke Johnson single in the seventh, as Laskey retired 12 in a row.
After the Johnson one-out knock, Tyler Wincig hit a ground ball to first, but Johnson beat the throw to second. Johnson and Wincig made good reads to move up a base on a pitch in the dirt that Rothenberg blocked in front of the plate, but with men at second and third and one out, Laskey got a strikeout and a ground ball to third to end the threat.
Jack Grabek fanned three-hole hitter Kennie Taylor with the bases loaded in the bottom of the seventh to keep it a 1-0 game, and then the Bison looked like they might break through against Duke reliever Ethan DeCaster in the eighth. Luke Hartman was hit by a pitch to start the inning, and Madigan moved him up with a sacrifice bunt. But DeCaster coaxed a ground out and strikeout to strand the tying run.
Things got away from the Bison in the bottom of the eighth, as the first three Blue Devils reached via walks. Mike Stephens came out of the bullpen and quickly retired Rothenberg on a pop up to shortstop. But Max Miller delivered the big hit for Duke when he lined a 2-run single to left. Jimmy Herron plated two more with a trickler through the left side of the infield, and then Griffin Conine doubled to center, just past the outstretched mitt of a diving JohnPaul Bell, to score two more.
Both teams finished with six hits, coming from 12 different players. Bucknell garnered one extra-base hit, a double from Evan Klugerman in the ninth.
Van Hoose (0-2), the Patriot League strikeout leader a year ago, has now fanned at least nine in a game six times in his career. Laskey (1-1) struck out 10 in his seven innings of work.
Bucknell (0-4) and Duke (3-2) will play the second game of the three-game series on Saturday at 1 p.m. A pair of righthanders will take the mound, with Bison junior Jeff Gottesman opposing Duke senior Ryan Day. The game will air on ACC Network Extra via ESPN3.com and the WatchESPN app.