Its roller-coaster baseball season back on a downswing, Duke baseball heads to Myrtle Beach seeking one, final crescendo.
The Blue Devils enter the NCAA Tournament on a four-game losing streak, having lost eight of the 12 games they played in May.
The extended slump followed a red-hot April that saw the Blue Devils win 15 of 18 games to vault into the nation’s top 10 and spur hopes of playing NCAA Tournament regional and super regional games in Durham.
Instead, Duke (35-21) heads to Coastal Carolina for the Conway Regional to open the NCAA Tournament. Seeded No. 2 in the four-team, double-elimination regional, the Blue Devils play No. 3 seed UNC Wilmington (34-21) Friday at 1:05 p.m.
The No. 10 national seed and top seed for the regional, Coastal Carolina (39-19) plays No. 4 regional seed Rider (35-19) Friday at 7:05 p.m.
Never one to enjoy losing, Duke coach Chris Pollard nevertheless said he has a good feeling about his team’s vibe entering the NCAA Tournament. The Blue Devils dropped a pair of one-run games, 8-7 in 11 innings to NC State and 7-6 to Miami, at the ACC Tournament.
“Even in the midst of this tough four-game stretch,” Pollard said, “I think we’re doing a lot of things well, especially offensively.”
Duke has a .280 team batting average while slugging 95 home runs, a single-season school record. Catcher Alex Stone carries a 30-game hitting streak into the NCAA Tournament. He’s now hitting .327 with a team-best 14 home runs this season.
He’s joined in Duke’s potent batting order by Jay Beshears (.340, 12 home runs), Alex Mooney (.330, eight home runs), M.J. Metz (.274, 13 HRs) and Luke Storm (.256, 13 HRs).
The Blue Devils are choosing not to focus on their current losing streak. Rather, they are metaphorically turning the page to a new season.
“It’s a brand new season,” Pollard said. “These guys are energized. They’re excited to be around each other for another week. And we’ll just go down there to Conway and play really, really hard and let the chips fall where they will.”
Duke’s pitching staff has suffered through an injury-plagued campaign, including losing ace starter Jonathan Santucci to a season-ending arm injury in late March.
Coming off his own injury, Andrew Healy appeared in only two May games. His last outing was May 13 against Georgia Tech, when he allowed one run on four hits over 3 ⅓ innings.
But Pollard said Healy (5-1, 2.39 earned run average) could be available for the regional to give the Blue Devils another talented pitcher.
“I think there’s a good chance of that,” Pollard said.
Duke will need plenty of pitching this weekend, beginning against a UNC Wilmington team that owns a .299 team batting average and averages 8.8 runs per game.
“We open up with a UNC Wilmington team that’s playing their best baseball here at the end of the year,” Pollard said. “They, too, are a team that can really score runs.”
Duke missed the NCAA Tournament last season after winning the ACC title in 2021 and getting knocked out in the regionals. The Blue Devils won regionals in back-to-back seasons in 2018 and 2019, falling in road super regional appearances in both years.
Mooney, a sophomore, will be playing his first NCAA Tournament game on Friday. Stone had some NCAA Tournament experience as a freshman in 2021. Both players are eager to get the Blue Devils back to playing well enough to make the school’s first College World Series appearance since 1961 possible.
“I think last year was kind of motivation to not miss the tournament again,” Mooney said “I think guys kind of had that in the back of their minds throughout the winter in the fall and in the weight room and on the field and stuff like that. That’s kind of an extra motivation for this year.”
NCAA Conway Regional
Brooks Stadium, Conway, S.C.
Friday, June 2
Game 1: No. 2 Duke vs. No. 3 UNC Wilmington, 1:05 p.m., ESPN+
Game 2: No. 1 Coastal Carolina vs. No. 4 Rider, 7:05 p.m. , ESPN+
Saturday, June 3
Game 3: Loser Game 1 vs. Loser Game 2, 12:05 p.m.
Game 4: Winner Game 1 vs. Winner Game 2, 6:05 p.m.
Sunday, June 4
Game 5: Winner Game 3 vs. Loser Game 4, 12:05 p.m.
Game 6: Winner Game 4 vs. Winner Game 5, 6:05 p.m.
Monday, June 5 (If necessary)
Game 7: Winner Game 6 vs. Loser Game 6