The Blue Devils opened the weekend with four first-inning home runs, tying a team record for most in an entire game. They closed the weekend having scored 33 runs, a school record for an ACC series, and having locked up the No. 3 seed in the conference tournament, also a program-best.
Across four games at Dail Softball Field in Raleigh, then-No. 20 Duke trailed for less than a half-inning and outscored N.C. State by 22 runs. Right fielder Deja Davis, second baseman Kristina Foreman, shortstop Jameson Kavel and left fielder Kamryn Jackson combined to hit .438/.526/1.063, along with eight home runs. On the mound, Shelby Walters pitched 10.1 scoreless innings with a 1.161 WHIP, while Brianna Butler tossed three perfect innings with five strikeouts in relief and Peyton St. George recorded her third save of the season to close the 4-2 Saturday nightcap.
“This is great timing. Obviously, you want to be hot going into the postseason, and I feel like that's where we are: things clicking on all cylinders, we've found ways to win games in different ways, whether it be… a tight ballgame or coming from behind,” head coach Marissa Young said. “[I’m] excited about where we are, and what the matchup is going to be for the ACC tournament.”
Coming into the series, the Blue Devils (39-10, 26-10 in the ACC) were looking to further the tune-up that started in Louisville, Ky., and continued into a sweep of Tobacco Road rival North Carolina. Duke had already bounced back from a 1-9 April stretch to win eight straight, so the Wolfpack were simply an opportunity to make sure the early-spring blues did not return.
Well, the Blue Devils went above and beyond that, and aside from a Peyton St. George Sunday clunker and Caroline Jacobsen being in and out of the regular lineup, the team is playing its best softball of the season.
Friday evening set the mood for the whole weekend. The game opened under rain, which often leads to sloppy games filled with miscues, but the only team with a dreary disposition was N.C. State (25-24, 15-22 ACC). The Blue Devils hit four two-run homers in the first inning, then scratched a pair more across in the fifth. On the mound, Walters and Claire Davidson combined for five hitless innings, giving the program its second no-hitter—and the second one that Walters has been involved in.
Saturday afternoon, Duke tied its single-game home run record yet again, and spent nearly four innings just a run away from a second run-rule win. Davis led off the game with a home run, while Jackson hit a triple and a home run in her first two at-bats, respectively. St. George and Butler’s combined one-hit, one-walk, 10-strikeout effort made things easy for the Blue Devil gloves.
Saturday night followed the same script, with the Blue Devils scoring four runs in the first four innings, leading Young to relieve Walters with Davidson to start the sixth. But Davidson allowed the first three batters to reach, and not even Walters returning to the contest could prevent the Wolfpack from cutting the deficit to 4-2.
That was it for Walters, and St. George came in to attempt the save. An average MLB team would be expected to give up 1.52 runs. But St. George nonchalantly overpowered the next batters, striking out both to end the threat, and eventually finished the save in the seventh.
It looked like the Blue Devils were back on track in the Sunday matinee, jumping out to a five-run lead in the second inning. But St. George clearly wasn’t able to hit her spots as consistently as the night before, and the next six runs were all Wolfpack two-run shots off the senior. That’s been an issue that has plagued the Virginia native all season; even as she gains more experience and her core stats improve, she’s set career-highs in triples and home runs allowed by a considerable margin.
With just two innings remaining Sunday, Duke was in a precarious position, trailing 7-6. However, things changed quickly, particularly thanks to Foreman's three-run shot in the sixth. By the middle of the seventh, the Blue Devils held a 12-7 lead, with Walters finishing the sweep soon thereafter.
And just like that, “Team Four,” as the 2021 Blue Devils like to call themselves, finalized multiple program records. With some exceptions, it’s difficult to argue that such a young program can really have full-season records, but nevertheless, the books now list under regular-season accomplishments: overall wins (39), ACC wins (26), ACC win percentage (.722), home and road wins (20 and 13, respectively), doubles (75), home runs (42), steals (70), batting-average-against (.197), complete games (19), shutouts (11), saves (6), strikeouts (326) and double plays turned (43).
“Winning any competition is great for us,” Jackson said. “Our team's getting back on our hot streak and everyone's seeing the ball really well and hitting the ball really well. So I think this will carry on to next week, and I think we'll have a really good chance at the championship and ACCs.”
No. 3-seed Duke will next take the field against No. 6-seed Louisville in the ACC tournament in Louisville, Ky., Thursday at 7:30 p.m.
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