With one on and two out in the top of the 2nd, junior outfielder Dominique Salinas stepped up to the plate with a chance to put Duke one step closer to its first postseason win in program history.
The former Ole Miss Rebel did just that, smacking an RBI double to left to give the sixth-seeded Blue Devils an early 2-0 lead over No. 3 seed Notre Dame.
But that would be the last run Duke would score, with the Fighting Irish plating nine unanswered runs to take down the Blue Devils 9-2 in the ACC tournament quarterfinals at JoAnne Graf Field in Tallahassee, Fl. The loss marks an end to an up-and-down second season of softball in Durham, with Duke also suffering a first round ACC tournament exit in the program’s inaugural campaign last year.
Sophomore Peyton St. George notched the start on the mound for the Blue Devils (25-31, 11-13 in the ACC), holding Notre Dame (36-15, 18-6 in the ACC) scoreless over her first three innings of work as Duke held its 2-0 advantage. But things quickly turned south, as the Blue Devils failed to register a single hit outside of the second inning while the Fighting Irish notched all nine of their runs over the final three frames.
The damage started in the bottom of the fourth, as two singles and a walk quickly loaded the bases. Sophomore infielder Sarah Genz then came in to pinch-hit, lacing a one-out double in her only at-bat of the contest to tie up the ball game for Notre Dame. Genz would be the last batter St. George faced before Amelia Wiercioch relieved her classmate with two groundouts to end the inning.
But the Fighting Irish picked it right back up in the fifth, as a hit batter and a single put two on and nobody out. Blue Devil head coach Marissa Young then called upon freshman Shelby Walters to pitch her team out of the jam, though another two-run double off the bat of junior Abby Sweet would give Notre Dame the lead for good. Sweet finished the afternoon two-for-three, one of two Fighting Irish—along with senior outfielder Ali Wester, who finished three-for-four—to post multi-hit efforts on the day.
Any hope the Blue Devils had for a comeback all but ended in the sixth, with Notre Dame exploding for five more runs to put the game to bed.
In a year in which Duke expected to take a big leap forward following last season’s inaugural campaign, the Blue Devils finish in the exact same spot they were last spring, their win total actually decreasing from 29 to 25. That is a far cry from the 40-win goal the team had in mind at the beginning of the year.
Nevertheless, six of Duke’s nine regular position players—along with all four pitchers—are sophomores or younger. The team leader in average—second baseman Deja Davis—along with two of the top three finishers in home runs and runs batted in—utility players Caroline Jacobsen and Kristina Foreman—are all freshmen. The Blue Devils have a bright future ahead of them, with an extended postseason run next spring not out of the question at all.
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