It is generally a bit difficult to get on base in softball. The task requires near-instantaneous recognition of a talented pitcher’s offerings, all while further deciding which strikes are even worth swinging at, for a few pitches every at-bat—it takes extended work.
But what if you wanted to get on base more easily? What if you, like yours truly, did not belong anywhere near a softball field and could not be trusted to actually earn your way on base?
Well, you’re in luck. There are, in fact, some ways to bypass the arduousness of an at-bat. There’s catcher’s interference, but that still requires you to be able to time a swing well enough that the catcher’s glove is involved in the play as you come through the zone. There’s the intentional walk, where you need only stand in the box for four unhittable pitches, but any decent pitcher is probably going to realize that you couldn’t hit a cement mixer, much less a softball, by the time they toss that fourth ball.
No, the only quick and reliable way to get on base is to hang in there and take one for the team. While getting hit by a pitch is almost definitely the most painful way to reach first base, there has to be a price paid for your deal with the devil, and if you have an uncomfortable welt tomorrow, so be it. No pain, no gain.
The Blue Devils seem to be fans of this arrangement, especially against N.C. State: in the Duke program's first two years, its players were plunked six times in four total games against the Wolfpack. That’s 8% of Blue Devil hit-by-pitches (HBP) in just 3.6% of their games during that span.
Coming into this past weekend’s series, Duke was already hit-by-pitch-crazy. The team was averaging 0.8 HBP—a figure that would stand as most across a full season in team history—and had already set a program record for hit-batsmen in a series with seven against Syracuse in mid-March. The Blue Devils spread the wealth against the Orange, with six players getting plunked—only then-third baseman/designated hitter Kamryn Jackson was hit multiple times.
This past weekend, it took until the fifth inning of their opening game, but N.C. State reliever Brooklyn Lucero finally opened the hitter-hitting by nailing catcher Kelly Torres. Saturday started as painlessly as Friday, as the first three innings of the doubleheader-opener went by without a HBP. Enter Wolfpack pitcher Sydney Nester, owner of a substantial 1.2 HBP/7 mark coming into that game: after giving up four runs the day prior, she hit centerfielder Kyla Morris, her second batter of the day. Three batters later, she hit now-left fielder Kamryn Jackson.
The nightcap on Saturday once again featured a late HBP, with pinch hitter Sydney Bolan taking her second HBP of the season in the fifth inning.
It was Sunday, however, where things truly got out of hand. With Lucero pitching in the second inning, first baseman Rachel Crabtree took a pitch to the elbow that made for her team-leading ninth HBP on the year and extended her Duke record with a 29th-career HBP. Later that inning, a pitch ran in too far on Jackson, bouncing off her left thigh for a bases-loaded RBI. With her second HBP of the weekend, Jackson was now one stray pitch away from tying Crabtree’s record for HBP in a single series, set in 2018 against Boston College.
Jackson’s RBI chased Lucero and brought in our old pal Nester, who proceeded to plunk the first batter she saw, shortstop Jameson Kavel, giving the righty her first HBP of the season. Nester went the rest of the day without another HBP, but her replacement came in the form of freshman Estelle Czech, holder of a 1.1 HBP/7 mark. In the seventh inning, Czech caught Torres on the right forearm for the record-breaking eighth HBP of the series.
But there remained a couple more records to reach. Torres’ plunking had tied the program record of four HBPs in a single game. And so, a few batters later, with a five-run lead as she stepped to the plate, Jackson took Czech's 0-2 pitch to the elbow.
One awfully painful-looking stinger later, Jackson had tied Crabtree’s single-series HBP record, set a new program single-game HBP record at five, and extended the single-series record to nine.
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Duke’s remarkable success this year has truly been an all-hands-on-deck approach. And of all the records set by “Team 4,” none are more indicative of this than last weekend's hit-by-pitch accomplishments, a true team effort if there ever was one.