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Duke softball hopes to gain invaluable experience in exhibition opener

Junior Raine Wilson returns as one of the Blue Devils' primary leaders.
Junior Raine Wilson returns as one of the Blue Devils' primary leaders.

After a historical inaugural season, the Blue Devils are no longer the new kids on the block and are looking to establish themselves as a premier NCAA program.

Duke will have the opportunity to test out its new legs this weekend as it opens its fall exhibition slate in a doubleheader versus Appalachian State. The Blue Devils play Sunday at 1 and 3 p.m. at the Duke Softball Stadium. A team with eight new faces, Duke is using their fall slate to prepare a young team for a challenging ACC season. While the games do not count towards their overall record, the Blue Devils hope to get the newcomers familiar with the speed of the college game.

“Getting them to understand the pace of the college game is key this time of year. Again, we’ve thrown a lot at them and they’re probably a little overwhelmed,” head coach Marissa Young said. “As Coach Laura said the other day 'I feel like I forgot how to play softball.' It’s just a lot some days. They bring a lot of speed and a lot of energy and are looking forward to coming in and being a part of what we’re doing.”

Duke was led last year by Raine Wilson, who raked in a team-high 35 RBIs with a batting average of .371. The now-junior utility player transferred from James Madison and was vital in the Blue Devils’ success last season, earning All-ACC first team honors. Duke also benefitted from the experience of graduate transfer Jill Ferraro, who helped lead a young Blue Devil team.

On the defensive side, Peyton St. George was a mainstay on the mound, clocking in an ERA of 1.79. St. George was the only Duke pitcher to finish the season with a winning record, going 8-4 while also leading the team in strikeouts.

The Blue Devils finished last season with a winning record, earning themselves a No. 7 seed in the ACC tournament. Unfortunately, Duke fell to 10th-seeded Virginia Tech 4-0 in the first round.

“I think the kids really understood after going through the full year why we preached and harped on so many little details because it really played out over the year. I think really early on, having such a brand new team that’s trying to adjust to so much, it’s a little overwhelming all that we were trying to instill and throw at them,” Young said. “I really think this group gets it now and we’ve gone from being a real coach-led program to the kids are leading themselves. They want what we want for them which is really fun.”

The Mountaineers struggled last season in the Sun Belt Conference, going 4-20, but that mark represented twice as many wins as Appalachian State garnered the season before. The Mountaineers lost three seniors last season, one of whom did not play her last two seasons due to an injury. The loss of senior Heather Josey, however, is one that will hurt the Mountaineers. Josey batted .278 with 119 hits over her career and currently sits sixth on the all-time home runs list with 20 long balls.

While Josey was an important part of the Appalachian State team, the squad returns the majority of talent from last season, including junior catcher Jenny Dodd. Dodd batted .345 last season with an on-base percentage of over 50 percent. She also tallied nine home runs.

“We didn’t see them last year so we can’t rely on what we saw last year. This time of year, it’s all about executing our style of game. I don’t expect perfection,” Young said. “I told the kids yesterday, I just want to see them come out and compete. We’re going to make mistakes, the other team is going to make mistakes. Who’s going to be the team that picks themselves up and continues to fight? I think we’ve got a gritty group ready to do that.”

After two matches against the Mountaineers, the Blue Devils will hit the road next weekend to take on UNC-Greensboro.

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