AP Photo/Ben McKeown
For the first time since 1961, and the first time ever by way of a tournament, the Duke Blue Devils are the ACC baseball champions.
In a battle for conference and baseball supremacy in the state, Duke came out on top, winning the ACC Championship 1-0 against North Carolina State on Sunday afternoon.
A sacrifice fly was all that was needed for the Blue Devils, who were seeded ninth in the tournament and are now 32-10.
For the third-seeded Wolfpack (30-17), Chris Villaman struck out six through 4.1 hitless innings of relief, but the offense couldn’t capitalize, stranding six men on base as they were shut out for the first time all season.
NC State and Duke didn’t play during the regular season, with their ACC series canceled amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
The red-hot Blue Devils have now won their last 12 games.
Duke took its 1-0 lead in the top of the fourth. Outfielder Peter Matt hit a sacrifice fly to right but earned the RBI when shortstop Ethan Murray, who had reached on a leadoff double, crossed the plate.
That came after miraculous defense from NC State kept Duke off the board in the third.
The Blue Devils carried that momentum into the fifth inning, when they wound up with two on and two out. That prompted the Wolfpack to make a pitching change, bringing in Villaman to take the hill.
Villaman earned the final out to close the book on Matt Willadsen, who ended with six strikeouts, four hits and the one earned run across 4.2 innings. When he stepped to the mound in the top of the six, he fanned two and had defense behind him for a lineout to keep Duke at bay.
A pair of errors put NC State in position to tie it in the bottom of the sixth inning, but a missed opportunity on the basepath kept the Wolfpack down one heading into the seventh. After Austin Murr reached first on a fielding error, a double play gone wrong had him on third following a throwing error from Duke first baseman Chris Crabtree.
Murr had the chance to tag up and tie it on a deep fly to center from Jonny Butler, but he left too early and couldn’t make it all the way to the plate upon retreating. The inning ended when Terrell Tatum grounded out in the next at-bat.
All of that came in Jimmy Loper’s first inning on the mound. He replaced Cooper Stinson, who ended the afternoon with three hits and six strikeouts through 6.0 innings.
Loper made it two batters into the eighth and got the tying run aboard before he was sent away in favor of Marcus Johnson.
Murr was the first batter Johnson faced, giving the first baseman a chance at redemption, but he flew out to short. Another flyout from the Wolfpack put Duke within three outs of history.
Villaman made sure that the Wolfpack would have the greatest chance at walking it off, striking out the side in the top of the ninth, but his offense couldn’t match his power when it mattered most.
Johnson finished with one hit and a strikeout through 1.2 innings.