Sunday, March 16, 2014

Notre Dame Fighting Irish 1 at Duke Blue Devils 4 (ACC Baseball) - March 15, 2014


This trip started with another burst of cold weather that followed us all the way to North Carolina. Winter is on its last legs though, and by Saturday the temperature reached 20 Celsius, perfect for spring college baseball. In the US, sports road trips are so much easier when you include college games, and as baseball squads play around 60 games during their 3-month regular season, there is seemingly always a match nearby. Nowhere could that be more true than the Raleigh-Durham area, with UNC, Duke, and NC State all in the area. So when I needed to find a game on the way back to Washington from Raleigh, I didn't have to look far as Duke was hosting the Notre Dame Fighting Irish in ACC afternoon action.



We arrived on campus and found a free parking spot, not an easy accomplishment for first time visitors. As we made our way to Jack Coombs Field, we passed Cameron Indoor Stadium and paid our respects. The Duke campus is beautiful and all of its sports facilities are in one area, including Wallace Wade Stadium for football (above).



Arriving at the ballpark, we were given two pieces of good news. First, it was an unexpected doubleheader as impeding weather forced them to move Sunday's game to Saturday. Second, there was a lacrosse game starting one hour after the baseball game got underway and our ticket could be used for that as well. Three games for the price of one!




Jack Coombs Field is a simple place like most college baseball stadiums, with no bells and whistles. There is a single seating area behind the plate, with 8 rows of box seats and then some benches, as you can see above. Next to this is a grass berm where fans can sit and enjoy an unobstructed view of the game (below).



There are two concession stands offering pizza, hot dogs and popcorn as well as soda in souvenir cups. The only history I noticed was a list of All-Americans and All-ACC players which is located between the two restrooms behind the stands. An odd place to celebrate your best. Note that future Blue Jay Marcus Stroman pitched here and was an All-American in 2012.

I really love college baseball because it is hype-free. The minors need to be family friendly and there are lots of sideshows to attract the kids, but in the NCAA, there is only the game, which moves very quickly when the players need to get 18 innings in.

The Game

Andrew Istler started for Duke and was strong, yielding just 5 hits and a single run in 8 innings. He threw 64 strikes out of 100 pitches and was never threatened. He also demonstrated a good pickoff move, getting one runner with a quick throw to first. Look for him to be drafted this year.

The Duke offense was paced by Andy Perez, an All-ACC second baseman in 2013. Perez was hit by a Nick McCarty pitch in the bottom of the third, stole second and scored on a single by Mark (Oompa) Lumpa, tying the game at 1. Mike Rosenfeld (below) followed with a triple and he scored on a double from Chris Marconcini.



Perez singled home a run in the fourth and stole his second base of the afternoon, only to be stranded. Still, that was more than enough for Istler, who was relieved by Robert Huber in the 9th. Huber gave up a walk but nothing else as Duke won 4-1. The game took 1:59, great for a nine-inning affair.

Lacrosse

With the game ending so quickly, we had time to check out the lacrosse game across the parking lot. #5 UNC was visiting #4 Duke and when we arrived, the Tar Heels were leading 6-4 with about six minutes to go in the third quarter.



We found seats near the top of the seating and were amazed at the attendance, with 3,887 on hand for this key matchup (compared to 457 for baseball). No idea if we were included in that total. The rest of the game was exciting as Duke came back to tie it at 8 in the last couple of minutes, forcing overtime.  Duke won the face-off there and held the ball the entire time, scoring on a nice move from Jordan Wolf to win just 1:26 into the four-minute period. I don't count this as a venue or game, but I will be adding college lacrosse to my sports road trips in the future as it seems to provide a great afternoon of entertainment. Update: Duke won the National Title, defeating Notre Dame 11-9 in the final. An interesting footnote to this day for me.



Game 2



We returned to the diamond where the second game was already underway. We watched Michael Matuella pitching for Duke (below) but he was removed after just 3 innings. Notre Dame's starter Pat Connaughton was also replaced after three frames, and I stopped paying attention. With a long drive ahead of us, we left with the game scoreless in the 5th. Duke won 1-0 on an unearned run in the bottom of the ninth in a game that took 3:28, belying my belief that college ball is quick. With their basketball team winning their ACC tournament semi-final, it was a good day for Duke all around.



Notes

Notre Dame was wearing their bright green jerseys, perhaps in honour of St. Patrick's Day. This is pretty cool and would make a great gift for any Irish fan.



Next Up

I'm in Washington and on my way to the Leafs at Capitals afternoon game. Check back tomorrow for a recap.

Best,

Sean

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