DURHAM, N.C. — It wasn’t a good day for Duke (11-11, 3-3) pitching and defense. They issued eight walks, committed four errors, threw two wild pitches, hit five Wake Forest batters and had two passed balls.
The Deacs (15-6, 4-2) capitalized, topping the Blue Devils 11-2 Sunday afternoon at Durham Bulls Athletic Park to win the series.
“Not a whole lot of offense for either team today,” Wake Forest coach Tom Walter said. “We only had six hits, but we made the most of them.”
Wake starter Connor Johnstone paced the Deacs, throwing seven strong innings, allowing just one run on five hits. He struck out six batters while walking two.
“Connor Johnstone was really good today. Getting seven innings out of him made a big difference for us today,” Walter said. “We were going to go straight from Connor to Griffin (Roberts) there, but when we extended the lead we decided to go (John) McCarren an inning and then Griff.
“We’re thrilled with the way CJ threw the ball in a really big situation. It’s hard to win series on the road against good ball clubs and we got it done today.”
The Deacs struggled offensively, but stretched a 2-1 lead after six innings to 4-1 after two runs in the top of the 7th. Though closer Griffin Roberts had been getting loose, they asked Johnstone if he could go another inning.
“Between Connor and Griffin, we wanted the game to be decided between those guys,” Walter said. “We got a little bit of cushion, or he probably wouldn’t have gotten the ball at all in the 7th.”
Johnstone threw to contact, and was efficient with his pitches.
“The cutter was really working today,” Johnstone said. “That was a pitch I could fall back on whenever I needed a strike.”
It took 196 pitches for the Blue Devils to collect the 27 outs against the Deacs, with 91 of those out of the strike zone. Though Wake had plenty of base runners, they only had six hits.
“Hitting is contagious — there’s no question. When pitchers are throwing balls, it’s hard to get into a rhythm,” Walter said. “They were throwing a lot of off-speed pitches while behind in the count, and that’s why we walked so much, but also why we didn’t get as many hits. That was their game plan, and it obviously kept us from getting hits, but allowed us to get baserunners.
“We don’t care how they come. We just care about quality at-bats. We don’t worry about statistics, RBIs or hits — we just want quality at-bats from our guys, and I thought we did a good job stringing quality at-bats together today.”
Wake earned just one ACC road series win each of the last two seasons. They grabbed two-out-of-three in Durham this weekend — their very first road conference series of the season.
“It’s huge. You want to finish in the top six in our league. That’s always the goal,” Walter said. “The top six historically has had a good chance to host. It’s too early to talk about that now, but so far we’ve put ourselves in position by playing well down the stretch we’ll have a chance to do that. It’s huge. Winning series on the road is not easy. To get one today was really good for the program.”
Leadoff hitter Jonathan Pryor was 3-for-5 at the plate, and Ben Breazeale was 2-for-4 with an RBI and three runs scored. “Benny was seeing the ball well today, and was sitting on pitches. He was willing to take pitches when he wasn’t getting his pitch,” Walter said. “Patience for all our hitters is key. If they’re willing to wait for a pitch they can hit, we’re pretty dangerous. If we’re going to expand the zone and go out of the zone to get hits, then we can be pitched to.”
Walter said the wind had a factor in what the Deacs wanted to accomplish Sunday against the Blue Devils.
“The wind was blowing in. You weren’t going to hit a ball out to left field today, so the park played a lot different today than it did earlier in the weekend,” he said. “We had to find different ways to produce runs. We want base runners. That’s the key to our offense. Solo home runs don’t do us any good.”
The Deacs play Charlotte (13-7) at BB&T Field in Charlotte at 7 p.m. Tuesday, then host Georgia Tech (12-6, 2-4) at David F. Couch Ballpark next weekend for a three-game series.