Duke baseball pushing for 1st NCAA bid since 1961

Published on NewsOK Modified: May 1, 2014 at 3:52 pm •  Published: May 1, 2014

DURHAM, N.C. (AP) — There's another turnaround taking place at Duke — and this time it's happening on the baseball diamond.

Long mired near the bottom of the ACC and overshadowed by their neighbors, the Blue Devils are pushing for their first NCAA tournament berth in more than 50 years.

Picked in the preseason to finish fifth in the Coastal Division, Duke (28-17, 15-9) has won nine straight and 11 of 12 to move into third place.

The Blue Devils are a combined 5-1 against rivals North Carolina and N.C. State — who both reached last year's College World Series.

It's a rise that mirrors the Duke football team's ascent from the bottom of the Bowl Subdivision to the Top 25.

Catcher Mike Rosenfeld said Thursday that ending that NCAA tournament drought "would mean everything to us."

The Blue Devils say the secret to their success has been a group of 14 fourth- or fifth-year players who were around for two head coaches, three straight losing seasons and four consecutive years with at least 21 ACC losses.

"We have to remember what we've been through in the past, and use that for fuel and recognize the success and know what the cause of that has been," senior utility man Mark Lumpa said.

Rosenfeld, a fourth-year junior, says they're bonded together by "a loose focus" in which they stay focused on the task at hand yet don't get too tight in high-pressure situations.

"We believe we can win," Lumpa said. "It doesn't matter the situation, really."

It helps that they can play a little longball.

Cleanup hitter Chris Marconcini leads the ACC with eight home runs and 42 RBIs. As a team, Duke ranks second in the league with 25 homers — and five of them came in their last game against Wake Forest.

That power surge has helped because all three projected weekend starters have missed time with injuries, including sophomore Michael Matuella — who has a 97 mph fastball and is back after missing a month with a strained back muscle. Those injuries led to a slide in which they lose five games in March by two or fewer runs.

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