The Blue Devils may have taken the field for warmups in parkas on a rainy, 39-degree Sunday afternoon, but their offense was anything but cold right off the bat.
Duke defeated Penn State in its ACC/Big 10 Challenge finale 3-1 at Duke Softball Stadium, improving to 4-5 on the season and ensuring that the weekend tournament did not pass without a Blue Devil win. Duke took the lead in the top of the third after the teams traded early runs, and the hosts remained in the driver’s seat for the rest of the contest with freshman Shelby Walters going all seven for the Blue Devils in the circle.
The win snapped a three-game losing streak for Duke, which was looking to get back on track in the early portion of its season before conference play begins.
“We just had to fight,” head coach Marissa Young said regarding her message to the team following a grim start to the weekend, dropping three games—two to Indiana and one to Penn State. “We haven’t had the outcomes we wanted in the first couple of games, but every day is a new day and we are always one swing away.”
And her Blue Devils did not take very long to get going. Third baseman Jameson Kavel led off the game with a drive to the alley in right center for two bases. A bobble from catcher Ally Kurland of Penn State (3-6) was all Kavel needed to snag third—but she was not done yet. Catching the Nittany Lion defense in a lapse, she swiped home on a moment of inattention after Deja Davis bunted for a single and put the Blue Devils up 1-0.
Duke put two more runners on, but left them both stranded in scoring position when a slick off-speed pitch by pitcher Bailey Parshall had shortstop Marissa Gagliano window shopping.
Penn State—the “home” team despite playing in Durham—was not to be outdone, however, getting two runners on with only one out in the bottom of the frame. Unfortunately, Mother Nature had other ideas, quelling the rally with a downpour that forced the players off of the field, and the tarp onto it.
More than an hour later, and dancing to “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough,” the teams retook the field as the tarp was lifted and the Diamond Dry was spread. Young seemed unperturbed by the interruption—rain delays having a nasty tendency to quell any momentum.
“We just had to come out ready to go and finish what was started,” she declared.
Haley Vallejos stepped to the dish, Walters delivered, and the game was back underway after 88 minutes. Walters quickly silenced the Nittany Lion bats, stranding two runners on with two grounders to the right side.
Penn State’s Parshall came out of the rain delay looking warmer than two hours prior, sending down the Duke bats with a quick top of the second. And the Nittany Lions kept their defensive energy into the bottom of the frame, lefty catcher Kurland belting a solo shot to center to knot the game at one.
But the tie did not stand for long.
Duke’s Davis got on with her second hit of the afternoon and promptly stole second. Freshman Caroline Jacobsen drew a walk, and after a sacrifice bunt from first baseman Rachel Abboud, the Blue Devils were set up with two runners in scoring position. Taking advantage, Kristina Foreman shot a single through a hole in the infield, bringing two runners around to score and taking the Blue Devils into the bottom half of the third holding a 3-1 lead. That frame was the end of the road for Parshall, who relinquished the reins to junior Hannah Shields after giving up three runs on six hits to the Blue Devils.
Duke was a team re-energized after the offensive spurt. And nobody is happier about run support than the starting pitcher. As soon as she got a two-run lead, Walters hit cruise control.
“This is what I need,” said the freshman, affirming that she knew she could go the distance with a simple, “Yeah.”
Walters may be a woman of few words, but her presence was felt on the field Sunday afternoon. After the offensive burst from Duke, both teams decided to hit the pause button. Penn State recorded a hit in the bottom of the third, but that was the most offense seen from either side for two-plus innings.
In the top of the sixth, Duke looked to snap the scoring drought with Kyla Morris leading off with a double down the line almost before she was introduced by the PA announcer. But it was for naught, as three straight grounders put Penn State right back on offense.
Walters continued to deal for the lighter of the two blues, adding another strikeout along with two groundouts to send the Nittany Lions down in order. She would finish the game, needing only 98 pitches to record her first Blue Devil victory.
“We’ve got all the pieces in place this year,” Young stressed. ”We just have to do a better job of rebounding when we don’t have success and we will be fine as we move forward.”
And Sunday, despite their 0-3 start to the weekend, Young’s Blue Devils did just that.
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