Following a 3-1 series loss against No. 14 Virginia Tech last weekend, the 22nd-ranked Blue Devils had to move on quickly to another tough series on the road against the ACC’s top team: No. 9 Florida State.
But things didn't get much better in Tallahassee, Fla.
In Friday’s series opener, Duke was greeted with a rain shower and the Seminoles’ premier pitching, managing only one hit in a 5-0 loss. The rain-soaked start of the series dampened the Blue Devils, as they were shut out again Saturday in a 3-0 Florida State masterclass. Then, Duke lost on a walk-off bunt Sunday afternoon, which gave the Seminoles the series sweep after the third game of the series—which was originally slated for earlier Sunday afternoon—was cancelled due to rain.
The sweep is Duke's first such series loss since April 2019, which also came against the Seminoles.
"It's tough to come up short, but Florida State is a great team and can't take anything away from them," Duke head coach Marissa Young said.
Friday evening, Peyton St. George took the circle trying to get back in the win column after four losses in her last five starts. But the senior ace's pitch count soared up well past the century mark before she could get through the sixth inning, and it seemed as though her fatigue from three appearances against the Hokies last weekend led to one of her least successful outings of the season against the Seminoles. The Mechanicsville, Va., native surrendered a career-high six walks and tied a career high with two hit batters en route to the five-run loss.
Since March 27, the previously untouchable pitching tandem of St. George and junior Shelby Walters have looked completely unlike themselves. Prior to that date, the two combined for just one appearance allowing three earned runs or more on the season, but have since combined for six such appearences.
The bigger story of Friday's game, however, was that Duke (27-9, 15-9 in the ACC) could hardly manage a baserunner.
The Blue Devils' lone real opportunity at a run came in the top of the fourth, when junior Deja Davis smashed a pitch to the right-center field gap for a triple, only to be caught on an attempt to steal home on a failed squeeze play later in the inning. Aside from that triple, Duke seldom had runners in scoring position over the first two games of the series, the duo of shutout defeats being the first two of the year for the team.
“We need to do better with timely hitting…. We are still working through a little bit of a wall,” Young said.
On Sunday, Walters was resting from her Saturday outing and St. George was coming off one of her most difficult appearances of the year, so Young turned to freshman Claire Davidson to start her fifth game of the season. With a 3.04 ERA entering the contest and a healthy arm, the Florida native was the pick to try to avoid the sweep.
But Davidson tossed just 19 pitches and recorded no outs before getting shuttled to left field. Within a blink of an eye, another long afternoon in Tallahassee was on the horizon, as the Blue Devils immediately faced a 3-0 deficit with an offense seemingly incapable of producing runs.
As emergency relief was needed to settle the torrid Florida State start, Walters and St. George were next in line as Young aimed to get her team back in the game.
“I think it speaks volumes that they've always worked well as a staff, and they know they're ready when their numbers are called," Young said. "And it was great to see them come in and do their part."
Despite falling behind, Duke’s offense exploited whatever it could, starting with a Jameson Kavel single in the top of the third that scored Davidson from second and allowed Davis to score from first on an error. In the fifth, with time against the Blue Devils' side, pinch-hitter Kelly Torres cranked a double to the gap and would come around to tie the score thanks to yet another Davis hit.
Davis finished 3-for-3 Sunday with three singles, including the game-tying RBI as well as a run scored.
“She looks good—she looks comfortable and confident," Young said of Davis, who had been struggling a bit at the plate over the previous few series.
With the comeback complete, it was now a matter of who scored next. However, Duke’s demise in the last frame hearkened back to a Blue Devil misstep earlier in the game. A missed squeeze play in the first inning left Davis in no-man’s land between third and home, but Florida State (27-6, 15-2) executed the same play to perfection to send Duke packing.
Nevertheless, Young was proud of how her team grew throughout the series' three contests.
“I'm proud they got better as the weekend went on,” Young said.
The Blue Devils travel to face Louisville this upcoming weekend, with Duke's conference schedule starting to ease back up in the coming weeks.
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Micah Hurewitz is a Trinity junior and a sports managing editor of The Chronicle's 118th volume.