Although it was a sweet weekend in the Florida sun for the Blue Devils, they returned to Durham Sunday on a bit of a sour note.
In a grueling extra-inning battle, Duke fell to No. 22 Minnesota 5-1 in its final game of a largely successful Citrus Classic. Sunday afternoon's game at the ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex in Orlando, Fla., was knotted at 1-1 going into extras before an offensive surge by Minnesota in the top of the eighth plated four runs and put the game out of reach for the Blue Devils.
“It was a tough loss, but I’m really proud of the way our kids competed,” head coach Marissa Young said. “We were right there with them late in the game and it’s really good to see them competing with a top-25 team in the country.”
Star freshman Katherine Huey–espnW’s reigning National Player of the Week for her play in the Big Ten/ACC Challenge last weekend—pitched seven innings of near-perfect ball. She allowed only one unearned run and notched seven strikeouts before the fateful eighth.
Until the third inning, the game was largely uneventful, with Huey and Golden Gopher pitcher Amber Fiser each shutting down the opposing offenses. But in the top of the third, the Blue Devils (9-5) faced a jam with Minnesota baserunners on first and second with nobody out. Huey didn’t let the ball out of the infield, but a throwing error by catcher Jazmine Moreno allowed the first run to score.
In the bottom of the inning, Duke responded. After sophomore Dominique Salinas walked, Jameson Kavel hit a two-out double to bring Salinas home and tie the game.
After the third, both Huey and Fiser regained their composure, and neither allowed another hit until the eighth. Fiser, a sophomore, pitched an absolute gem, allowing just six baserunners in her eight innings of work and striking out nine. She befuddled the Blue Devils all night.
“We tip our hats to the Minnesota pitcher. She threw a great game. She was throwing great pitches on both sides of the plate, changing speeds, and she just threw a heck of a game,” Young said. “But we knew it was going to be a pitchers' duel coming in, and it was just a matter of who was going to finish on top.”
In the sixth inning, Duke managed to get a runner on second with just one out with the sophomore Moreno at the plate. She hit a shot into right field for what could have been the game-winning hit—instead, Maddie Houlihan made a diving catch to keep the game knotted at one.
With the game tied in the top of the eighth, international tie-breaker rules went into effect, meaning both teams started the inning with a player on second base. With Huey still pitching, the Golden Gophers (10-4) bunted for a hit twice in a row to load the bases with nobody out. Sophomore MaKenna Partain stepped up to the plate and hit a rocket down the right field line for a bases-clearing double.
Later in the inning, sophomore Kendyl Linderman hit an RBI single back up the middle to make it a 5-1 game.
Down by four runs and with their backs against the wall, Duke managed to load the bases with one out, but couldn’t force home any runs. Even with the loss, it was an impressive weekend in Florida for the Blue Devils. Duke finished with a 3-2 record on the weekend, but both losses came against ranked opponents—Minnesota and No. 23 Kentucky.
Led by pitcher Peyton St. George, the Blue Devils gave up just one combined run in victories against Morgan State, Savannah State and Harvard.
“Our kids have to stay within themselves and continue to play our game,” Young said. “Our pitchers have done a really good job of holding down good offenses. We have to take care of a few things on defense, but we’re continuing to progress as a team week after week.”
The Blue Devils face another difficult opponent Wednesday when they take on No. 24 South Carolina.
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