If Sydney Bolan and Raine Wilson each have two RBIs, Rachel Crabtree and Jameson Kavel each have one, Gisele Tapia and Crabtree add two more runs on LSU fielding errors, and Peyton St. George doesn’t allow a hit until the fourth inning, what does Duke have?
A convincing win against the No. 5 team in the country, that’s what Duke has.
No. 25 Duke beat No. 5 LSU 8-4 Friday night at Tiger Park in Baton Rouge, La., the second of the Blue Devils' eventual four wins in the LSU Tiger Classic this past weekend, the other three being 6-2 and 7-5 victories against Central Arkansas and a 9-1 win against McNeese State. The 4-0 start for Duke is the best in team history, edging last year’s 3-0 mark.
“It was really good to see us pick up where we left off when the season was cut short last year,” head coach Marissa Young said. “After beating [then-No. 4 Texas last season], it really felt like the team was on a roll and in a great place, and it doesn't come as any surprise to us coming down here and competing and beating a team like LSU.”
Upsets are far from rare in softball, but the Blue Devils did their best to prove that their win wasn't simply happenstance.
Preseason All-ACC shortstop Deja Davis led off the game with triple laced to right field, sparking a first inning in which Duke put up three runs. Davis was the first baserunner in the second inning as well, reaching by a throwing error on an uncaught third strike. She later scored the first of three second-inning Blue Devil runs when Bolan officially notched a double to left that probably should’ve been scored the Tigers' fourth error of the game.
A two-run single by Wilson in the fourth inning put Duke up 8-0, all before LSU had even garnered a single baserunner.
Though St. George pitched the first inning looking quite chilly, by the fourth inning she was unable to wipe the widest smile off her face. And for good reason: Over her first 51 pitches, she had recorded a great 30% CSW (called strikes-plus-whiffs) and stood 10 strikes away from the second perfect game in Duke Athletics history.
“The thought of a perfect game didn’t enter my head until after the 3rd inning,” St. George said. “I was almost shocked, because I was so focused on each individual pitch and I didn’t even realize there hadn’t been any baserunners. I try not to get too ahead of myself, because the game can humble a pitcher really fast."
But on a 2-2 count, LSU third baseman Amanda Doyle got a bit of aluminum on a two-seamer that caught a little too much plate, and sent it just past a diving Tapia at second for a hit. Tiger slugger Georgia Clark made it two baserunners when she took a ball four on a pitch that could’ve just as easily led to a backwards K. And then Shelbi Sunseri, one of the best two-way players in the nation, received a hanging curveball, middle-middle, and deposited it about 250 feet from home plate to ensure the game wouldn't end in a mercy rule (eight-run lead after five innings).
“Peyton has been a great pitcher for us, and she made a couple mistakes that they capitalized on,” Young said. “But there was never a point in that game where she lost control, or wasn't effective. We were going to ride that feeling.”
Doyle would go yard in the sixth to tack on another run, but that would be the lone baserunner against St. George through the final three frames. And her smile was back in time for the ecstatic celebration that followed her strikeout to end the contest.
If Duke and LSU (2-1) were to hold a rematch, it’s unlikely that the Blue Devils would hold the Tigers to just five baserunners, or that the latter would be charged with three errors (and had one more mishap that likely should've been an error). But even correcting both of those outliers doesn’t make up for a four-run margin. Yes, Duke might’ve been the benefactor of some early-season luck, but it was clearly the best team in the frigid, rain-soaked Tiger Park this past weekend.
"At the end of the day, if you’re not walking away having left every ounce of you on the field after last season was cut short, you don’t deserve to be there," St. George said of overcoming the cold weather. "It’s as simple as that. Gratefulness takes over when the exhaustion sets in.”
Duke will face Pittsburgh and Notre Dame at home next weekend, the latter coming in ranked third in the ACC preseason poll, one spot ahead of the Blue Devils.
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