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After dominant opening weekend, Duke softball preparing for Big Ten/ACC Challenge

<p>Sophomore Caroline Jacobsen led the Blue Devils this past weekend in Florida.</p>

Sophomore Caroline Jacobsen led the Blue Devils this past weekend in Florida.

The tale of the Blue Devils’ young season so far is batting, baserunning and battening down the hatches. 

The team kicked off its third season with a five-game trip down to Florida last weekend, notching 27 runs and winning four of its contests. Next up, the Blue Devils will host the Big Ten/ACC Challenge in Durham, playing four games this weekend at Duke Softball Stadium. 

‘Coming alive’ down in Florida

On Friday, the Blue Devils (4-1) overwhelmed a Clemson team playing its first-ever season by a score of 11-0 in five innings, moving to 3-0 all-time in opening games. 

Duke slowly chipped away at the Tigers through the first two innings, nudging the score up to 3-0 behind a trio of RBI singles, before exploding in the third inning with a combination of solid hitting and Clemson errors to extend the lead to 10-0. A solo blast by sophomore outfielder Caroline Jacobsen in the fourth inning put the game to rest due to the mercy rule. 

Head coach Marissa Young said the team put a lot of preparation into the first game, and she was happy to see so many players “coming alive.” 

The Blue Devils stayed alive through their next contest Friday, coming out swinging and beating Indiana 8-2 in a game that featured freshman Felise Collins' first career home run. 

On the second day of its five-game weekend slate, Duke eked past St. John’s 3-1 thanks to an inside-the-park home run by sophomore Deja Davis and an RBI single by junior Rachel Crabtree. That night, though, the Blue Devils were dealt their first loss of the season thanks to well-rounded hitting by Central Florida, falling 5-2 to the Knights. 

In its last game of the weekend, Duke revenged its misstep from the night before. The Blue Devils jumped out to a three-run lead on home runs by Jacobsen and sophomore Kristina Foreman, holding onto that lead despite a late, seventh-inning rally by Central Florida, when the Knights drove in a pair of runs.

“We love to score first. That’s been part of our identity since year one. The difference maker in that game was our ability to finish, and we have not been great at that in the past,” Young said of the 3-2 win. “So that was huge from our standpoint, to see people hang in there.” 

Young said one of her goals for the year is for her pitchers to be able to go the distance and pitch full games. In a busy weekend, both junior Brianna Butler and sophomore Shelby Waters both pitched the maximum amount of innings, with Butler allowing only one hit to Clemson and Waters giving up only two hits to St. John’s. 

“I think that’s going to be a difference-maker for us, to manage our pitching staff if we have people that can throw complete games,” Young said.

The weekend ahead

Coming off of a strong start to the season, the Blue Devils are gearing up to host the Big Ten/ACC Challenge this weekend. The series will bring Syracuse (1-1), Rutgers (3-2) and Indiana (2-3) to town for eight games. 

Duke will kick off its weekend against Indiana Friday night and Saturday afternoon, a team the Blue Devils are pretty familiar with. 

“I think it helps with confidence knowing we’ve played Indiana the last two years,” Young said. “Our kids know what the game plan is, what to expect, and they just need to go out and execute.”

Duke will then face Rutgers Saturday night and Sunday. The Scarlet Knights earned their first winning season since 2015 last year under new head coach Kristen Butler, and Butler’s team is looking to build on that success.

‘Pieces of the puzzle’

Looking ahead, Young’s squad is looking to make the ACC tournament for the third year in a row and hopefully drive deeper into the postseason than it has so far. She said one goal is for the team to make the Women’s College World Series regionals and to keep elevating the team’s profile on the national level. 

“I think we have the pieces of the puzzle we need to be a top-50 team,” Young said.

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