On Dec. 16, 2013, when Duke announced its intent to add a softball program, the team’s first season seemed so distant. But a little more than four years later, the young Blue Devil team hopes to open its inaugural season with a bang Thursday at the FAU “First Pitch” Classic in Boca Raton, Fla. 

To start the three-day tournament at the FAU Softball Stadium, Duke's 27th varsity sport is set to play its first games in a doubleheader against the host Florida Atlantic, with the first-pitches being thrown at 5 p.m. and 7:15 p.m. The following day, the Blue Devils are pitted against Ohio State and Michigan State back-to-back at 1:30 p.m. and 3:45 p.m. They will round out the event against Boston University in an early 9 a.m. game Saturday.

Duke will try to make an early mark in collegiate softball with a very young team, compromised of mostly underclassmen. The team boasts only one graduate student and one junior transfer, with freshmen and sophomores filling out the rest of the roster. 

In the first exhibition game in program history in the fall, the Blue Devils had trouble putting enough runs on the board to beat a tough N.C. State team and lost 8-3. Although Duke went up 2-0 in the bottom of the fourth inning, with the runs coming from a bases-loaded walk and a wild pitch, the Wolfpack scored six unanswered runs in the next four innings. 

Hannah Pridemore hit the first home run in program history, a solo shot in the bottom of the eighth, to put the Blue Devils only three behind the Wolfpack, who answered with two final runs to bring the game to a close.

This weekend, Duke will go up against teams that have played more competitive collegiate games than the Blue Devils, and with players that are more familiar with this caliber of play. 

Florida Atlantic ended its 2017 season 35-21, with 229 runs and 26 home runs. In 2016, the Owls boasted a 51-9 regular season record, making it to the NCAA tournament. After the the departure of its main pitcher in Amanda Wilson, Florida Atlantic will likely have to rely more on pitcher/infielder Tatum Buckley.

With a 35-18 record in 2017, Ohio State fared similarly to Florida Atlantic. The Buckeyes showed they were not to be overlooked, with four players hitting at least 10 home runs and the team totaling 63 on the season.

Michigan State was also competitive in the Big 10 last season with a 34-24 overall record and could prove dangerous against a Duke team that is still getting used to playing with each other on defense.

Finally, Boston University could prove to be more of an equal opponent for the Blue Devils, as the Terriers struggled offensively to brings runs home in their 25-27 campaign last season.

Although the Blue Devil team may not be as experienced as some of its competitors this season, the team has five transfers from other NCAA Division I programs. Among those is catcher Jill Ferraro, a graduate transfer from down the road at North Carolina. 

With at least a few players already having collegiate experience, a head coach in Marissa Young with assistant coaching experience at Eastern Michigan and North Carolina, and the heart to “play all out” as Coach Young put it after their first competition in September, this Duke team has the potential to succeed, but will need to learn from each game and work hard.