Duke, Campbell turning heads on the diamond
Posted February 27, 2013
Durham, N.C. — Scouts from the San Francisco Giants and Pittsburgh Pirates were in the stands Wednesday at Jack Coombs Stadium in Durham as Duke played host to Campbell. In years past, a scout at a Devils-Camels game in February meant there was an outstanding talent on the diamond – say a Marcus Stroman. This year, however, it simply signifies two promising programs with talent to go around.
This is Greg Goff’s sixth season as the head coach at Campbell. His program has gone from a scheduler’s want-to to an opponent’s dread. The Camels won 41 games a season ago, bettering their 2011 mark by 24 games. Chris Pollard at Duke, meanwhile, had a win at powerhouse Florida in his debut for the Devils. He also had back-to-back double-digit strikeout performances from his starters over the weekend in a sweep of Bucknell in which Duke out-scored the Bison 15-1.
But how these two teams are gaining recognition could not be more different.
With all due respect to the top-10 programs in Raleigh and Chapel Hill, baseball is unique in the fact that a team can be better on paper, but lose to a buzz-saw of an arm. For Duke in the ACC, they are banking on that.
“Every day you go out, and if our starting pitcher goes out and throws well, you have a chance to win,” Pollard said. “Every day is different. Momentum is only as good as your starting pitcher and that is especially true in college baseball. We had three really good starts over the weekend and we were in a position to win all three games. That’s what we are trying to build off of.”
Of course, the Blue Devils need to replace Stroman, a first-round pick of the Toronto Blue Jays a year ago. As Pollard put it though, it is more about replacing the production and the person than it is the player.
“Multiple guys have to step up,” he said. “You are not just replacing a guy, you need to fill that gap with multiple guys and you need to replace that leadership as well.”
For Campbell, they are not in a power conference nor are they a sexy destination for 18-year-olds. Goff has built a team of ballplayers with experience, tapping into the junior college ranks. It doesn’t hurt that he is also a big fan of speed.
Second baseman Michael Felton is a transfer in from Gateway Community College – and likely high on the scouts’ radar Wednesday. He went 2-for-5 with two RBI. Ben McQuown is a Hawaii native and at Buies Creek via Lower Columbia Community College. All the 5-foot-10 outfielder has done is go 14-for-14 on stolen bases this year, including three against the Devils.
“I think the most consistent thing has been offensively, especially lately. Hopefully we can build off of that,” Goff said. “I think we have some great athletes. I feel real confident about our speed and athleticism."
The Camels are now 7-1 on the year after a 9-3 win at Duke Wednesday.
“I wish you got a trophy for how you start but it’s not about how you start, it’s about how you finish, Goff said. “So far the ball has been bouncing our way and we’re real fortunate.”
Duke is 4-3, but looking at the team, you would never guess it. Their three losses are at Florida and Wednesday against a strong Camels team. Pollard is a guy accustomed to winning after turning Appalachian State around and producing six consecutive 30-win seasons. As he says, it’s about getting the guys to show up and buy in.
“It’s about setting a foundation for the type of culture you want and instilling a mindset in your guys of what you have been preaching and teaching,” Pollard said. “Whether its aggressive attacking the strike zone as a pitcher, or aggressive on the bases, or aggressive when you step into the batter’s box, we want our guys to play with a loose aggression.”
Of course, at Duke, he may only need to say that once. Pollard conceded that this year, and true to contradiction, the players are smarter than the coach.
“It’s a blessing because you have the opportunity to coach such gifted student-athletes,” Pollard said. “Not only guys that are really talented with what they do on the field, but that are really talented with everything that they do. It’s a fun group of people to coach but I still haven’t got used to coaching a group of guys that are all smarter than me.”
A long season looms for both Campbell and Duke and the road only gets tougher for each. Come May, though, don’t be surprised if they both enter into your water cooler discussion.