Hoping to build off an encouraging inaugural season, Duke softball impressed in its first matchups since a first-round loss in the ACC tournament last spring.
The Blue Devils opened their fall exhibition slate with a doubleheader against Appalachian State at Duke Softball Stadium, winning both contests by scores of 4-2 and 4-0 respectively. With Duke bringing in seven freshmen this year, getting off to a strong start is essential in helping the newcomers become more comfortable playing at the collegiate level.
“It is big for us,” head coach Marissa Young said. “With such a young team, we want to build their confidence. But at the same time we have got things we have to work on.”
One of those newcomers is freshman pitcher Shelby Walters, who earned the win in the first game after tossing five innings of one-run ball. Walters was aided by an offense that came out of the gates hot, scoring three runs in the first inning. Two of those runs came off a double from fellow freshman Kristina Foreman, with the third run scoring after an Appalachian State error later in the inning.
“That is something we did a really good job of last year and hopefully that is the make of our team going forward,” Young said. “We want to come out swinging the bats and setting the tone for our pitching staff by scoring runs for them early.”
Walters struck out six during her five innings of work, allowing no walks. Her only earned run was a home run in the second inning. The Cohutta, Ga., native credits the Blue Devil offense with helping her find the rhythm to succeed in her first college start.
“It kind of just gave me the support like 'we can do this', ” Jenkins said. “They believe in me and they are going to help me get the win and achieve my goal.”
Sophomore Jameson Kavel provided an insurance run for the Blue Devils with an RBI single in the bottom of the sixth, and classmate Brianna Butler earned the save with two innings of one-run ball.
The second game of the afternoon began similar to the first, with Duke’s offense getting off to yet another hot start. Sophomore Amelia Wiercioch started the scoring with a sacrifice fly in the bottom of the second and another error from the Appalachian State defense on the very next play handed Duke a 2-0 lead. While the Blue Devils outplayed the Mountaineers across the board Sunday, their ability to play clean defense might have proved most important.
“Our defense was outstanding,” Young said. “We did not have a single error all day and I think that was really big.”
Duke also dominated on the mound in the closing game of the double-header, tossing a combined no-hitter. Wiercioch got the start for the Blue Devils, pitching the first four frames and striking out five. Fellow sophomore Peyton St. George then came in relief and fired two more no-hit innings before freshman Kylie Coffelt closed it out in the seventh.
In addition to preparing the team for the regular season this upcoming spring, Sunday’s exhibition games provided many of Duke’s players their first opportunity to put on the blue and white and represent their school. One of those players was freshman Caroline Jacobsen, who made a diving catch in right field in the first game of the day and had an RBI double in the second.
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“It is really exciting,” Jacobsen said of her first game at Duke. “I have been playing travel ball since I was nine so it was really exciting to finally reach this point.”
The Blue Devils will continue their fall exhibition schedule early Sunday afternoon, matching up against UNC-Greensboro. Duke will look to improve upon its 29-27 record from last season and become one of the more respected programs in the ACC.
“The team’s goal that we are all working for is 40 wins this season,” said Jenkins. “That is a really big thing. And I want to do my part to help us get there.”