Fresh Off ACC Baseball Championship,
Duke Looks To End 63-Year CWS Drought

By Ben McCormick
North Carolina Sports Network

Eight years ago, when Chris Pollard led Duke to an appearance in the 2016 NCAA Baseball Championship, the Blue Devils celebrated the end of what had become an embarrassing, infamous 55-year drought.

Pollard, who previously had success building programs at Pfeiffer (2000-04) and Appalachian State (2005-12), accomplished that impressive Duke feat in just his fourth year as the Blue Devils’ head coach.

Since then, Pollard has brought the Devils back to the NCAA Tournament five more times (2018, 2019, 2021, 2023 and 2024), and this year’s squad just captured the ACC Tournament crown for only the second time in program history.

The first ACC Baseball Championship was played in 1973, but it took Duke 48 years before it hoisted the championship trophy for the first time, in 2021.

Three years ago, at Truist Field in Charlotte, Duke was a stark underdog in the ACC championship game against NC State. However, the ninth-seeded Blue Devils eked out a 1-0 win and stole a bid to the NCAA Tournament.

Three years later, Duke captured another ACC title at Truist Field in Charlotte.

On Sunday, the Blue Devils had an electric performance at the plate in their 16-4 victory over Florida State. After dropping into a 2-0 hole in the first inning, the Blue Devils dug deep in the batter’s box, responding with five runs, highlighted by a double from ACC All-Freshman honoree Kyle Johnson that brought in two runners.

The bats stayed hot the rest of the night for Duke. Third baseman Ben Miller, a first-team All-ACC selection, hit a pair of home runs against the Seminoles, including his second grand slam of the season, which gave the Blue Devils a 9-4 advantage in the fourth inning. If there was still any doubt, center fielder Devin Obee alleviated all worries in the sixth inning by hitting Duke’s second grand slam of the night, extending the lead to double digits.

Unlike in 2021, this year’s Blue Devils were not necessarily an underdog. In fact, they were ranked #17 nationally by D1Baseball heading into the postseason. Still, sixth-seeded Duke certainly wasn’t the favorite to win it all.

This year’s tournament was a true testament to the high-level, competitive play within the ACC all year. For the first time since the ACC Tournament adopted its current format, in 2017, zero top-four seeds made the semifinals (#6 Duke, #5 Florida State, #8 Wake Forest and #11 Miami).

With their second title in four years, the Blue Devils are putting the rest of the ACC on notice. Pollard clearly has revived baseball at a school where the sport often has been an afterthought.

It’s easy to see why Duke fans may be more inclined to follow the men’s basketball program, with its five national championships, 17 Final Fours and 22 ACC Tournament titles. Men’s basketball is the standard at Duke. It gets the attention, it gets the fans and perhaps most importantly, it gets the funding. But even without the money, the attention or the praise, Duke baseball is carving out a path to success.

For this year’s team, that path to success started with capturing the ACC crown.

Pollard told media members in Charlotte that, a week prior, he had passed around a 2021 ACC championship ring to his current players.

“In Charlotte, in 2021, (that) was the best baseball experience I’ve ever been a part of,” Pollard said, turning to three of his players sitting next to him. “And I want you to have that experience, too.”

After the Blue Devils’ victory over FSU in Charlotte on Sunday, Pollard pointed to his team’s tunnel vision as one of the keys to victory.

“We were in the moment all week,” Pollard said. “We never once talked about the NCAA Tournament.”

Now that the ACC Tournament is behind them, the Blue Devils’ attention finally must shift to the NCAA Baseball Championship, where they have had a lot of success under Pollard.

Last season, the Blue Devils fell in three games to Virginia in an NCAA Super Regional. That was a familiar fate for Pollard, as his 2018 and 2019 Blue Devils also fell just one game shy of a trip to the College World Series.

Duke hopes that this team might finally be the one that can get over the hump and secure a trip to Omaha. A CWS appearance would be the program’s fourth all-time, but just its first in 63 years. The Blue Devils’ most recent visit, in 1961, came in another year when they were ACC champions.

Despite capturing the ACC Tournament title and almost undoubtedly proving itself to be among the top 16 teams in the country, Duke did not receive the honor of hosting an NCAA Tournament regional.

Five fellow ACC members did: #4 North Carolina, #6 Clemson, #8 Florida State, #10 NC State and #12 Virginia. Another North Carolina-based team, #16 East Carolina, was the selection committee’s final choice for a regional host.

(The full Friday-through-Monday schedules for NCAA regionals involving ACC and North Carolina-based teams — including matchups, broadcast times and television/streaming options — can be found HERE.)

Not only did Duke win the ACC, it also has victories over all of the aforementioned ACC or NC-based regional hosts, including those over NC State and FSU this past week in Charlotte.

It may not have been Duke’s resume that prevented it from hosting, though.

Jack Coombs Field, the Blue Devils’ on-campus home, has a reported capacity of just 2,000 and is a subpar venue by ACC standards. While the Devils also play some home games at Durham Bulls Athletic Park, the 10,000-seat home of the Durham Bulls of (AAA) minor-league baseball, that facility is hosting multiple concerts this weekend and thus was unavailable for NCAA purposes.

Compared to the 4,100 seating capacity (or 5,000-plus when standing-room-only patrons are added) at UNC’s Boshamer Stadium, for example, it’s easy to see how Duke’s on-campus option might not be an attractive host financially. Similarly, ECU’s Clark-LeClair Stadium, which has 3,000 permanent seats, occasionally has hosted 6,000-plus fans for big games.

The Blue Devils landed instead in Norman, Okla., where the regional host is the #9 Oklahoma Sooners. Duke, the #2 seed in the region, will first be matched up with the UConn Huskies, the #3 seed in the region, on Friday.

If the Blue Devils can win the Norman regional and make it back to the Super Regionals, they could be faced with an ACC championship rematch against the #8 national seed, Florida State. That would come with a CWS trip on the line … and another very, very long Duke baseball drought at stake.