Led by powerful hitting and timely pitching, Duke capped a perfect weekend in the Big Ten/ACC Challenge with a 7-2 drubbing of Penn State.
It was an all-around dominant performance for the Blue Devils Sunday afternoon in their fourth win in four games at Duke Softball Stadium this weekend. The Blue Devils slapped 11 hits, including four for extra bases, while shutting down the Penn State offense. Duke’s pitching staff combined for six strikeouts with no walks and allowed zero earned runs.
“Our bats were explosive, and we’ve focused since the fall on being aggressive early on and hitting good pitches early in the count,” head coach Marissa Young said. “They kept up the energy even when we made mistakes and things didn’t go our way, and we kept plugging away.”
Freshman Amelia Wiercioch had an impressive afternoon on the mound and at the plate. She entered the game with a sparkling 0.93 ERA in 15 innings and kept up that success by throwing four innings of scoreless ball, only allowing 3 hits. At the plate, she went 1-for-3 with a towering triple that bounced off the top of the wall and plated two Blue Devils.
After an uneventful first inning, sophomore Raine Wilson led off the top of the second with a blast over the left fielder’s head that bounced all the way to the wall for a double. Freshman Katherine Huey, who has been on a tear to start the year, scored Wilson with a check-swing single past the second baseman to put the Blue Devils up 1-0. Shortly afterwards, sophomore Dominique Salinas crushed a pitch into the left-center field gap for a stand-up double to put Duke up by two.
“They always tell us to be aggressive. It’s one of our big things and we have embraced that,” Wilson said. “This is a testament to the fact that girls come in every single night to hit extra, and it showed on the scoreboard today.”
In the top of the fourth, the Blue Devils (6-3) struck again. Wilson and Huey each had infield singles to lead off the inning and then executed a double steal to set up runners on second and third with no outs. Wiercioch then hit her bases-clearing triple to extend the lead to 4-0.
The Nittany Lions decided to change pitchers, replacing Madison Shaffer with Ashton Mensinger. Mensinger got two quick outs, but freshman Ashleigh Rodriguez hit a grounder past the diving second baseman to plate Wiercioch.
Penn State (0-6) has struggled mightily to open the season, but the team’s misfortune continued in the bottom of the fourth. The Nittany Lions had two straight hits from Haley Vallejos and Delaney Elling to put runners on second and third. Wiercioch got a key strikeout for the first out and then forced Tori Dubois into a soft ground out to first. Vallejos tried to go home on the play but was caught in a rundown, and when Elling tried to escape back to second, she was tagged out to end the inning.
“In that tough spot, I just trusted my muscle memory,” Wiercioch said. “I’m really lucky to have the team that I do behind me and we all just came together, took a deep breath, and knew we could get out of it.”
With one out in the top of the fifth, freshman Rachel Abboud attempted to score from first base on a double by Wilson, but the throw beat her by a mile. However, after wild pitch sent Wilson to third, Huey smacked an RBI single into left center for her third hit of the game.
Brianna Butler replaced Wiercioch in the bottom of the fifth and faced the bases loaded with one out due to two Duke errors. After a big strikeout, Elling hit a line drive single to plate two, but Butler forced a lazy fly ball to end the inning. One inning later, when Duke committed its third error of the afternoon and Butler was forced into another bases-loaded situation with one out, she again bore down for a clutch strikeout before forcing a weak grounder to prevent any damage.
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“We are always trying to get better, and we know that those mistakes against some teams are going to bite us in the butt,” Wilson said. “We were lucky enough that those three errors didn’t hurt us, but we know we have to crack down on that and get better.”
Duke increased its lead to 7-2 in the top of seventh after freshman Jameson Kavel hit an opposite-field single and scored on a sacrifice fly from Abboud. Freshman Peyton St. George replaced Butler and shut the door on the Nittany Lions, striking out two.
“I know that if we can continue to play our game, we will have success,” Young said. “We’re going to have our growing pains, but if we minimize the big innings and have our pitchers stay ahead of batters to minimize the damage, we will be okay.”
Duke will look to build on its momentum next weekend when it travels to Orlando, Fla., to compete in the Citrus Classic. Its first matchup is Friday at 3 p.m against Morgan State.