Thursday was a historic day for Duke athletics. With a road debut four years in the making, all eyes were on the Blue Devils to see how Duke’s 27th varsity sport would fare in its grand debut on the NCAA field.

And even when faced with an experienced Florida Atlantic squad, the Blue Devils proved their fledgling program will be one to watch out for.

Duke opened its inaugural season with a doubleheader against the Owls in Boca Raton, Fla., for the FAU “First Pitch” Classic at the FAU Softball Stadium. In two nail-biting games that were both decided by just one run, the Blue Devils split the tally against Florida Atlantic, taking game one 4-3 but dropping game two 3-2. Some young Blue Devils have already started turning heads, with freshman Peyton St. George retiring 12 straight batters to close game two and sophomore Raine Wilson notching three hits and two runs combined in the doubleheader.

“With it being our first game, we were just looking for our kids to come out and compete and have good at-bats at the plate, and for our pitchers to throw strikes through the ballgame,” Duke head coach Marissa Young said. “I'm really pleased with what I saw from them as a squad in their first couple of games.”

The Blue Devils started their competitive Duke softball careers rocketing out of the gates against the Owls. Freshman Amelia Wiercioch hit a double in the opening frame to send Wilson and freshman Rachel Abboud back home, giving Duke an early 2-0 lead. When the Blue Devils took the field, Wiercioch continued her hot streak in the circle with a three-up, three-down inning to keep the home team at bay.

Duke continued to set the pace in the top of the third thanks to frequent errors from Owl pitcher Kelsey Morrison. With Abboud knocking her first career hit with a single to left and Wilson following suit down the right-field line, the Blue Devils set the table for a wild pitch from Morrison to gift Duke another two runs before the fourth inning. Morrison gave up four earned runs with just one strikeout against the Blue Devils.

“They're all freshmen, so it's going to take from one game to another, we're just trying to prepare them mentally to be the one ready to step up when their time is called,” Young said. “I'm pleased with the way they've been competing and playing with that go-for-it mentality we've been working on.”

Unfortunately for Duke, Florida Atlantic has more than a few seasons under its belt, and the well-seasoned Owls weren’t going to let the Blue Devils’ find any relief in their first-ever collegiate match.

Florida Atlantic opened the bottom of the third with an RBI single from junior Madisyn Palmer to get on the board. The Owls followed up with home runs at the bottoms of the fifth and the sixth to come within one. To make matters worse for the Blue Devils, Florida Atlantic’s relief pitching from senior Tatum Buckley paid dividends, with the Owl senior allowing just one hit and striking out five. However, Duke held on till the end, capping off the game with a 1-2-3 seventh inning from freshman Katherine Huey.

Although the Blue Devils showcased the power of an enthusiastic underclassmen-oriented squad in game one, Florida Atlantic proved in game two that Duke still has a long road of development ahead.

Redshirt freshman Jazmine Moreno capitalized on a single from Wilson to put the Blue Devils on the board in the top of the first, but the Owls responded with a right-field double from Buckley to drive Palmer in followed by a run courtesy of junior Mia Olsen to take the 2-1 lead in the first inning. The difference widened thanks to another run by the Owls in the bottom of the second, and Duke was left to claw back the deficit. Unfortunately for the Blue Devils, although they outhit Florida Atlantic 8-5, they could not convert, only managing one more run in the fifth inning from freshman Jameson Kavel.

Duke continued its action in Florida by splitting a doubleheader against Ohio State and Michigan State Friday and will play Boston University Saturday.

“We just want our kids to have short-term memory and come out and play every game like it's new,” Young said. “To stay aggressive and compete well and learn from the mistakes we made, we want to build off that.”