Schedule changes and rain delays wouldn’t bother Duke en route to sweeping Pittsburgh and finishing the regular season with the ACC’s second-best record.
Not only did the tenth-ranked Blue Devils show the overpowered offensive contributions from pitching and overall formation that have been their hallmarks all year, but they showed maturity and poise. on defense, which puts them firmly ahead of the Panthers in their 9-1 run. victory on Thursday and their 3-2 and 6-1 wins in Friday’s doubleheader.
“We have a rock that they painted on the outside of our dugout their freshman year that had 40 on it,” head coach Marissa Young said of the team’s seniors and graduate students, who were celebrated before the final game of the series. “For them to get their 40th win on our home turf and the final game of the senior day is truly special and the product of all their hard work and commitment to this program.”
Graduate student pitcher Peyton St. George started Thursday’s game for Duke (40-7, 19-3 in the ACC) and closed the Pittsburgh roster, scoring eight strikeouts in six innings.
The Panthers’ only break came in the top of the fourth. On the first pitch of the inning, Pittsburgh leadoff Yvonne Whaley lined up a shot just over St. George’s head, which the pitcher flagged. After St. George took a moment to regroup, Pittsburgh right fielder Bailey Drapola took the next pitch on a drive over the center field fence for the lone hit and run of the visiting team match.
The Duke players behind St. George were big contributors, especially infielders and team veterans Jameson Kavel and Kristina Foreman as well as outfielders Kyla Morris and Deja Davis. Those four players combined for sixteen strikeouts and eight assists on the streak, handling bouncy balls in the field and skidding foul flies without issue.
While Pittsburgh’s defense also put up a valiant effort against Duke’s bats, its lack of range was a sore point that Duke capitalized on.
Kavel led the bottom half of the first with a single that passed Sarah Seamans, the Panthers’ first baseman. Kavel then swept her 12th base of the year before first baseman Rachel Crabtree hit another one to Seamans, who popped the ball and failed to put out a runner. Crabtree also stole second, and both runners easily won home after bunt pressure from Foreman and a wild pitch.
To seal the game in the sixth inning, pitching hitter Sarah Goddard landed another infield single when Pittsburgh second baseman Ana Hernandez failed to handle a grounder that hit her. Designated player Gisele Tapia then hit a solid line to the center field wall, advanced to third as the home stint arrived behind Goddard and completed its journey around the bases when third baseman Kayla Lane failed. didn’t handle catcher Rachael Fuerst’s throw properly.
Duke had to deal with its own defensive errors in Game 2 of the series, with three errors being blamed on rookie third baseman Ana Gold. One such error was a throw that took Crabtree out of first base and allowed Pittsburgh’s Whaley to safely reach and eventually round bases on one of Panther’s two runs.
However, Duke starting pitcher Claire Davidson didn’t allow more runs in her more than five innings of work and no other Duke player made an error, leading Pittsburgh (14- 27, 2-20) to collect only one extra hit and the eleven. runners on the base path.
Despite two separate hour-long rain delays, Duke’s pitching continued to do business and his bats continued to smash in the third and final game.
Sophomore pitcher Jala Wright threw six one-run innings and combined with St. George and sophomore Lillie Walker to close the season and bring the team’s ERA to 1.74, which leads the ‘ACC. Gold bounced off the pitch, registering four error-free assists. She was also one of seven Duke hitters with a hit on the day, closing the season as a leading contributor to the team’s ACC-leading 86 homers and 331 RBIs.
“I think for us it’s just the consistency we’ve had all year,” Young said of the team’s preparation for the playoffs. “When we’re at our best, we throw well, we hit well and we play good defence. That’s key for us as a coaching staff: making sure they’re prepared for our next opponent and our team can go out there and execute and play with confidence.
The Blue Devils will start the playoffs at Thursday’s ACC Tournament in Pittsburgh as the No. 2 seed.
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