While other students ventured off campus to enjoy a weeklong beach vacation or a trip to foreign lands, the Duke Softball team stayed put, taking on Pittsburgh in a three-game set at home.
The Blue Devils started off the weekend with a win, taking nine innings—split over two days due to a lightning delay— to walk it off against the Panthers by a final score of 4-3. Brianna Butler got the win from the circle, tossing all nine frames and giving up only three earned runs while striking out four and walking none. Butler, with this win, moved to an impressive 5-1 on the season after giving her run support gave her four runs on seven hits, including the walk-off in the ninth to seal the deal.
“She’s been working really hard for the last year and a half,” expressed coach Marissa Young of her pitcher’s strong performance. “It’s good to see it clicking for her.”
The first frame passed scoreless, the Panthers registering the sole hit as Duke was sent down in order despite making solid contact in all three at bats. Pittsburgh got things going in the second as Connor McGaffic sent a shot to the alley in right center for two bags, and was quickly bunted over to third. Butler sent the next two hitters down as well, but not before a sacrifice fly could give the Panthers the lead.
The sparks began to fly again in the fifth inning after a couple uneventful frames, Pittsburgh sending two across the dish thanks to a couple of key hits and some helpful HBP’s. Duke was quick to answer after going down 3-0, however, tacking up their first score with a Brianna Butler two-run blast to dead center. If you want something done the right way, do it yourself, Butler must have been thinking rounding the bases, providing herself with the run support she needed to sustain her performance.
“I think the pitching fed into her hitting coming around,” said Young.
The game progressed uneventfully until the top of the seventh, when a Caroline Jacobsen sacrifice fly sent the contest into extras. The Blue Devil offense again came alive in the ninth, when Reilly Metzger was brought home by the bat of Rachel Abboud to walk it off for a Duke squad that had battled the entire game from behind over the course of two separate trips to the ballfield, thanks to the interruption from Mother Nature.
But alas, there was still another full game to be played that very same day. A few hours later, Shelby Walters entered the circle in Duke Softball Stadium and sent the first pitch over the plate to start the day’s second battle, which Duke would go on to win by a final of 8-0, bats blazing in a run-rule victory for the Blue Devils. Walters went four and two-thirds in the win, surrendering only one hit and striking out five in the team’s shutout performance. But the clear story of the afternoon was the Duke offense, which capitalized on a couple key innings to lift the team.
“It was good to see our bats come alive and be able to produce more runs offensively,” said Young of her team’s explosion.
And it took until the third to get going, but the fuse did not take long to burn. Two quick outs seemed to tell the same tale of the previous innings, but a small-ball single and hit-by-pitch along with a pair of steals put two ducks on the pod for Kristina Foreman, who sent a triple to right field to bring around the opening two runs of the game.
“We [were] able to use our speed and put runners in motion a little more,” said Coach Young happily, and her team continued to run the bases excellently in the sixth, tacking on six more to close out the contest.
Raine Wilson provided the initial spark with a shot over the left field fence, and the rally continued throughout the lineup, Wilson coming back to the plate to drive in two more before the inning concluded with the run-rule being implemented, Duke driving in their eighth run.
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“The week off getting reps in and getting their confidence back really helped,” Young remarked of the team’s first two wins. “It’s good to see everyone coming up when we need it, and coming up clutch.”
However, the weekend was not to go unblemished, as Duke came back to the ballpark Sunday afternoon and could not complete the series sweep, dropping the final matchup of the three game set by a 5-3 final. Shelby Walters went again for the Blue Devils but was chased after just three innings of work after giving up three earned on five hits, walking four. Brianna Butler tossed four in relief, but gave up the final two runs in the seventh inning that clinched the win for the Panthers (4-21, 1-5 in the ACC).
The scoring was kicked off in the second frame with a 2-RBI double by Pittsburgh following a two-out walk, and Duke responded by loading the bases and pushing one across with a walk, but left three on base, which quickly became a theme for the Blue Devils Sunday afternoon.
“I still think we could do a better job with 2 outs and runners in scoring position,” Young lamented. “We ran ourselves out of a lot of innings.”
And for a minute, it seemed as if Duke (12-15, 3-3) was primed to enjoy another comeback win like their first game of the set, with a two run double by Rachel Abboud coming as answer to a crazy play in the top of the fourth that resulted in a Panther run. The game was tied at three, but the Blue Devils were shut out the rest of the way, paving the way for the Pittsburgh offense to seal the deal.
And in the top of the seventh, they did just that. Alexee Haynes lambasted a homer to left center, and Morgan Batesole singled home the next runner to get on. One hit in the bottom of
the frame was not enough for the Blue Devils, as they ended their weekend on a poor note despite clinching the series the previous day.
“We made a lot of mental mistakes,” Young admitted postgame. “A good team like [Pittsburgh] will find a way [to capitalize on them].”
And find a way they did, denying Duke a sweep in an important part of the homestand. The Blue Devils must limit these mistakes heading into a matchup with No.16 South Carolina this Wednesday, hoping to keep the momentum from the first two games into this tough test.