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Duke softball wraps up season-opening weekend with 2 wins in 5 games

<p>The top half of Duke's lineup was responsible for most of its offense early in games this weekend.</p>

The top half of Duke's lineup was responsible for most of its offense early in games this weekend.

It may have not been a perfect weekend for the start of Duke’s softball program, but with a pair of victories in their pocket, the Blue Devils can return home with both positives and learning experiences.

After splitting a pair during Thursday’s season-opening doubleheader against host Florida Atlantic, Duke won just one of its final three games in Boca Raton, Fla., at FAU Softball Stadium, sandwiching a 3-0 Friday evening shutout of Michigan State between losses to Ohio State and Boston University on Friday and Saturday, respectively. The Blue Devils fell 5-2 against the Buckeyes before a 7-4 loss in extra innings versus the Terriers.

Still, Friday’s stellar outing in the circle from freshman Katherine Huey was the standout moment of the trip to the Sunshine State.

“She’s been battling some back pain as well, so going into that game, we weren’t planning on her throwing a full seven innings,” Duke head coach Marissa Young said. “But she got into a really good rhythm, kept her pitch count down and she was able to stay in control of the game.”

From the get-go, the Blue Devils (2-3) attacked the Spartans, pouncing on them in the opening frame for three runs. Leadoff hitter Jazmine Moreno got on second base thanks to an error, but was in danger of being stranded after a strikeout and a fly out from Duke’s second and third batters.

But three straight hits capped by a two-run double from sophomore transfer Dom Salinas helped the Blue Devils tally all the offense they would need. Despite mustering just two more hits the rest of the way—one in the second and the other in the fifth—it was all Huey on the rubber.

Michigan State (2-2) threatened in the first, second and fourth frames, putting runners in scoring position with fewer than two outs each time. But the Cumming, Ga., native came up huge, posting perfect innings in the fifth and the seventh to seal the deal.

“We scored in the first inning, which is what you always want to see, and not scoring the rest of the game meant there were times when we had to bear down and be tough,” Young said. “I was really proud of the kids for keeping their composure, staying locked in and keeping Michigan State scoreless.”

In the early matchup Friday afternoon, Duke struggled with a different Big Ten foe. Although the Blue Devils strung together a series of good at-bats in the bottom of the first inning to grab an early advantage 2-1 against the Buckeyes, Ohio State was relentless. The Buckeyes (4-0) added a pair in the third, another in the fourth and then an insurance run in the top of the seventh to secure a 5-2 victory.

Duke starter Peyton St. George suffered her second loss in as many days on the hill, allowing a trio of earned runs in three innings on five hits.

But the biggest concern for Young was the Blue Devil bats. Although they scored five runs in the first inning of the two games combined, Duke didn’t score at any other point in either contest, with most of its offense coming from the top of the lineup.

“We need to do a better job of being able to move runners and get things going in our bottom half of the lineup,” Young said. “They’ve got to get things going to turn that lineup over to the top half, but again, it’s really early.”

In the weekend’s finale, it was an early start for the Blue Devils with first pitch coming at 9 a.m. Saturday, and it showed as neither Duke nor Boston could score in the first two frames. And although Jameson Kavel provided some early offense with an RBI double and a run in the third to give the Blue Devils a 2-1 lead, it would be short-lived.

The Terriers (2-1) scored lone runs in the fourth and fifth innings to go in front, and Duke needed a late rally to tie things up.

With four hits in the sixth, the Blue Devils did just that. After a leadoff groundout, Duke’s next four batters reached base as Salinas proved clutch yet again, singling down the left field line to score Raine Wilson. And even though the Blue Devils were able to load the bases with a shot at the lead, a fielder’s choice ended the threat, and the game would ultimately have to be decided in extras.

Boston tacked on four runs in the top of the eighth thanks to a pair of hits and a pair of costly Duke errors. Facing its largest deficit at any point of the weekend, the Blue Devils scored a run, but could not get any closer, ultimately falling 7-4.

With five games in three days, it wasn’t always easy sledding for Duke as it set a number of program firsts in its opening contests. But the Blue Devils return to Durham knowing where they will have to improve with their first home games less than a week away.

“We’ve got four quality pitchers—they’re different, so they can come in behind one another,” Young said. “It’s more figuring out our lineup and getting our kids comfortable and into a good rhythm.”

Mitchell Gladstone | Sports Managing Editor

Twitter: @mpgladstone13

A junior from just outside Philadelphia, Mitchell is probably reminding you how the Eagles won the Super Bowl this year and that the Phillies are definitely on the rebound. Outside of The Chronicle, he majors in Economics, minors in Statistics and is working toward the PJMS certificate, in addition to playing trombone in the Duke University Marching Band. And if you're getting him a sandwich with beef and cheese outside the state of Pennsylvania, you best not call it a "Philly cheesesteak." 


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