With offense hard to come by Wednesday night, Duke managed to do just enough to escape with the win.
Thanks to a dominant pitching performance from Amelia Wiercioch and Kortney Dry’s first career home run, the Blue Devils came away with a 1-0 victory against Elon. Duke had been struggling with six losses in its last eight games entering the matchup—many in heartbreaking fashion—and manufacturing offense has been particularly difficult. Despite the tough stretch, Duke Softball Stadium was full of energy and the Blue Devils rode that wave, scraping out a win against the Phoenix.
“A lot of those one-run games haven’t gone our way this season, so I was proud to see the kids gut it out,” head coach Marissa Young said. “Obviously there were a lot of things we could have done better today, but Amelia threw a heck of a game and Kortney stepping up, getting that home run was huge for us.”
Offensively, the Blue Devils (21-21) started the game out strong. It took Duke just two at bats to put the first run on the board. After Kavel just missed out on an infield single, Dry stepped up to the plate and hit a shot into deep left-center that easily cleared the wall. That home run was the first of Dry’s career, but she would be the only player to cross home plate all afternoon.
"Honestly, coach told me right before the at-bat to be ready to turn on a pitch,” Dry said. “So that was my mindset going up to that pitch. It was inside and I was able to drive it.”
As vital as Dry’s homer was for the Blue Devils, Wiercioch was undoubtedly the player of the game. She pitched seven shutout innings with eight strikeouts against two walks—one of which was intentional. After allowing a single to lead off the game, she did not give up another hit until the sixth inning. In fact, she only allowed five balls to leave the infield all game, and only one of the four hits she gave up went for extra bases.
“I’m not really used to playing in front crowds a lot because my high school was so small,” Wiercioch said. “So I’m not used to having a lot of fans in the stands. But we all saw the support that we had in the stadium. And especially when 'Everytime We Touch' came on, it was a really good feeling.”
Early on, the Elon batters looked helpless. Wiercioch rang up seven Phoenix players through the first three innings, including retiring the side on strikes in the second.
Elon (20-19) adjusted to Wiercioch’s drop ball over the course of the game and started making more contact, but that only led to a parade of ground-ball outs. It wasn’t always smooth sailing, but whenever Wiercioch was put in a jam she deftly avoided any damage.
"Honestly, I wouldn’t be able to get out of those hard situations without my teammates behind me,” Wiercioch said. “Jaz especially behind the plate really gives me the confidence to throw the ball in the dirt. And because I’m a drop ball pitcher, I create a lot of ground balls, so without a solid defense behind me I wouldn’t be able to do what I do.”
While Wiercioch was dealing, Duke’s offensive struggles were still very much on display. After Dry’s home run, the Blue Devils only managed five more hits, all of them singles. With runners in scoring position, the Blue Devils batted an anemic 1-for-13.
In the third inning, Duke managed to load the bases with one out thanks to two singles and an error, but two straight groundouts killed any chance at scoring. One inning later, Haley Wymbs and Jazmine Moreno both singled to set up a second and third situation with one out, but a groundout and a pop fly kept the score at 1-0.
“It really comes down to a mindset,” Young said. “The lack of experience and girls putting too much pressure on themselves are issues. We hit really well when the pressure’s not on, but when we have runners in scoring position, they get up there and try to do too much. So we’ve got to get them to relax and just keep a good mindset with runners in scoring position.”
Down the stretch, Elon threatened to tie the game twice, and twice Duke’s defense came up big. With two outs and Erica Serafini on first base in the sixth, junior Kristin Hoover stepped into the box and hit a line drive single into right-center field. Serafini tried to go first to third, but center fielder Dominique Salinas calmly gathered the ball and fired a bullet to third baseman Raine Wilson for the final out of the inning.
In the final frame, Wiercioch was still on the mound looking to put the finishing touches on her complete-game shutout. After forcing the first two Phoenix into easy ground balls, Tia Mitchell hit a laser into the left-center field gap for a double. With the tying run on second, Wiercioch intentionally walked Kara Schutt, bringing Hannah Olson to the plate. Olson hit a screamer down the third-base line, but Raine Wilson managed to snag the ball and tag the base for the final out of the game.
The win came as a relief for the Blue Devils as they gear up for nine straight road games. The grueling trip starts this weekend with a visit to South Bend, Ind., to play Notre Dame.
“We definitely needed that monkey off our back,” Young said. “And to be able to win a close game like this before playing a tough Notre Dame team is big for us, so we should feel good and confident going into that.”
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