Fall ball has given the Blue Devils the opportunity to tune up for what could be a breakout third season for the program.
Charlotte visited Duke Softball Stadium on an overcast Saturday afternoon as the Blue Devils improved to 4-1 on the preseason slate with a lopsided 10-0 win in the 10-inning exhibition contest. Led by starting pitcher Shelby Walters's four innings of shutout ball, Duke secured its second consecutive home victory.
“I think we’ve improved in all facets of our game, ” Duke head coach Marissa Young said. "Pitching is improved, we were having a lot more power and [increasing] the amount of hits we were getting per game, run production is up, and we’re playing really great defense."
The Blue Devils jumped on 49ers pitcher Maddux Hughes early, as runs scored by Rachel Abboud and Kyla Morris gave Duke the first-inning lead. With an early advantage, Walters went to work immediately, peppering the strike zone with an array of lethal fastballs. Walters utilized both corners of the plate and did not give the 49ers many hittable pitches at all.
Defensively, the Blue Devils' outfield made plays when necessary and the infielders held solid as well. The bullpen only gave up just two hits in six innings of work, keeping the second Duke shutout of the preseason intact.
“[Shelby] has been making really great adjustments this fall, we’ve expanded her repertoire, we’ve changed her pitching motion and she’s just adjusted to that and really having a lot of success,” Young said.
The Blue Devils were very patient at the plate, but when an opportunity arose, Duke pounced. After five straight scoreless innings by both sides following the early runs by the Blue Devils, a four-run seventh inning broke the game open. Kamryn Jackson, Jazmine Moreno and Kendyl Lange all scored on an Abboud double before Abboud was driven in once again by a Morris single.
The seventh-inning flurry was a result of patience in the box during each at-bat. An eighth-inning homer by Raine Wilson excited the crowd and put the finishing touches on the victory.
With a quick turnaround often taking place between weekend contests during fall ball, consistent energy is necessary. The Blue Devils showcased a constant energy throughout the matchup with the visiting 49ers, a sign that the program is trending in the right direction.
“I think we’ve always been a team that has fight," Young said. "There’s been times where our energy just gets a lull or we go through the motions and that’s where you see that lack of production and they decided to pick it up. So we’re trying to improve on that part of it."
Duke does not leave North Carolina for the rest of fall ball, giving the Blue Devils a comfortable setting for the final batch of tune-up games.
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Max Rego is a Trinity senior and an associate sports editor for The Chronicle's 118th volume. He was previously sports managing editor for Volume 117.