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Strong pitching, timely hitting lead Duke softball to series win at Virginia Tech

<p>Haley Wymbs singled to set up Duke's fourth-inning rally in Sunday's decisive series finale.</p>

Haley Wymbs singled to set up Duke's fourth-inning rally in Sunday's decisive series finale.

The Blue Devils got off to a slow start in the deciding game of their weekend series against Virginia Tech, but Duke's bats came alive late to secure the 5-0 victory and back-to-back ACC series wins for the first time in program history.

The Blue Devils' victory against the Hokies Sunday at Tech Softball Park was powered by stellar pitching performances from Katherine Huey and Peyton St. George. Duke has struggled offensively in recent weeks, but a clutch single by Reilly Metzger in the fourth proved to be all the run support the Blue Devils would need. With the win, Duke clinched a spot in the 2018 ACC Tournament in Atlanta. 

The Blue Devils (26-23, 10-11 in the ACC) got to Blacksburg, Va., Friday for game one of the series having won four of their last five but they couldn’t parlay that momentum into a victory, losing 3-1. Game two seemed like it would be more of the same, but Duke scored three critical runs in the top of the sixth to take the lead in a 5-1 win. With the series knotted at one apiece, both teams were eager for the rubber match Sunday afternoon.  

Freshman Katherine Huey pitched a gem for the Blue Devils, throwing five innings of shutout ball, striking out two and allowing only three total baserunners—via two hits and a walk. When Huey tired, Peyton St. George picked up right where she left off, pitching a scoreless sixth and seventh to close out the game and the series. 

The first three innings were quiet, as both pitchers shut down the opposing offense. Duke managed to put a runner in scoring position with two outs in the top of the first, but Jameson Kavel grounded out harmlessly to end the inning. 

The Blue Devils finally broke through in the fourth. Haley Wymbs and Raine Wilson led off the inning with back-to-back singles before executing a double steal to set up second and third with nobody out. After Kavel grounded out, Amelia Wiercioch walked to load the bases. That set up Metzger for her clutch single into left field to put Duke on the board. 

Duke kept up the attack in the fifth when freshman Ashleigh Rodriguez reached on an error. She then advanced to second on a sacrifice bunt and took third when Wymbs grounded out. Wilson stepped to the plate in a situation where the Blue Devils have struggled recently—two outs with runners in scoring position—but Wilson handled it beautifully, punching a single through the left side to score Rodriguez. 

For the third inning in a row, the Duke bats came alive in the sixth. This time, Wiercioch and Metzger led off the inning with consecutive singles, and both advanced when Hokie pitcher Carrier Eberle threw a wild pitch. A error by Virginia Tech (20-27, 6-14) plated the first run, and after Dominique Salinas stole second to set up second and third with nobody out, Jazmine Moreno knocked in two more runs with her single up the middle. That stretched the Blue Devil lead to five and sealed the series.

Next, Duke will travel to Farmville, Va., to face Longwood in a doubleheader Wednesday for its final road games of the regular season.

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