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Duke softball's inaugural season ends early in ACC tournament opener

<p>Amelia Wiercioch was strong in Mexico.</p>

Amelia Wiercioch was strong in Mexico.

After years of planning and building a program, the Blue Devils' inaugural season is finally in the books.

Duke's season came to a close Wednesday at the ACC tournament in Atlanta after the Blue Devils lost in the opening round to Virginia Tech 4-0. However, despite the early exit, Duke’s performance this season is an encouraging sign of things to come.

The teams entered the day with two of the best pitching staffs in the ACC as the Blue Devils and the Hokies finished the season ranked second and third, respectively, in team ERA in the conference. Freshman Katherine Huey drew the start for Duke (29-27) and had little margin for error against Virginia Tech's ace, Carrie Eberle, who came in with a 1.65 ERA—good for third-best in the conference.

After a scoreless first inning, the Hokie bats came alive to start the second. Olivia Lattin hit a lead-off blast to left-center field and was immediately followed by back-to-back doubles from Caitlyn Nolan and Taylor Clark. After the three straight extra base hits, Duke coach Marissa Young wasted no time bringing in freshman Amelia Wiercioch to replace Huey. However, those two runs would prove to be more than enough for Virginia Tech (23-29). 

Wiercioch pitched effectively in relief, going five innings and allowing only three hits and one earned run while striking out five. But although she was stellar, Eberle was magnificent. The Hokies star completely shut down the Duke offense, allowing just five Blue Devils to reach base all afternoon and striking out six. 

The Duke offense placed runners in scoring position only twice all game. With one out in the third, sophomore Dominique Salinas hit a double down the third base line, but a strikeout and a fielder’s choice ended the inning. In the sixth, Haley Wymbs hit a one-out single back up the middle. With two outs, Wiercioch hit a single of her own to set up first and second, but Jill Ferraro grounded out harmlessly. Meanwhile, Virginia Tech added insurance runs in the fifth and seventh to shut the door on Duke’s season. 

Despite the disappointing loss, Duke’s first season was a resounding success. Coach Young led the Blue Devils to 29 victories, the fifth best inaugural season in ACC history. Further, three Blue Devils received All-ACC honors as Raine Wilson was named to the All-ACC First Team, while Peyton St. George and Rachel Abboud were tabbed to the All-ACC Freshman Team.