As 2021 comes to a close, The Chronicle's sports department takes a look back at the biggest stories of the year in Duke athletics. Each day, we will review a major game, event or storyline that helped shape the course of the year for the Blue Devils.
Coming in at No. 4: Duke softball wins the ACC Championship in just the fourth year since the program's founding. For the full list, click here.
It was a beautiful 72-degree day in Louisville, Ky. A smattering of clouds overlooked the diamond as Duke, in only its fourth full year as a program, stared down No. 1-seed Clemson. As she had done so adroitly all season long, shortstop Jameson Kavel scooped up a grounder and fired the ball across to first.
This time, however, the bench exploded. The Blue Devils had just won the ACC Championship 1-0.
The team that won the conference title in 2021 perfectly resembled the team that was forged just four years earlier. Led by head coach Marissa Young, a score of multi-year returners spearheaded a dominant 44-12 season, including a 26-10 conference record. And though the Blue Devils faltered against a highly-touted Georgia team in the Athens Regional of the NCAA tournament, the players that spent most of the program’s life on the team saw it become a national powerhouse in their upper class years.
To nobody’s surprise, the pitchers’ duel of an ACC final was headed by none other than the Blue Devils' dynamic duo—Shelby Walters and Peyton St. George. Walters tossed a scoreless five frames against a talented Tigers offense, and then handed over the reins to St. George, who had the Clemson hitters guessing at everything. The pair combined for 37 of Duke’s 44 wins throughout the season, and seven years of experience on a Duke pitching staff that has been a large part of the program’s early success.
St. George blitzed through two scoreless, sending down the side in order with three strikeouts in the sixth, and yet again facing just three batters in the final frame that ended with the satisfying smack of leather from the glove of senior Rachel Crabtree, sending the Blue Devils home victorious.
And it was yet another tenured veteran who pushed across the only run of the game for Duke, with junior Deja Davis singling through a hole in the infield to get on, tallying just the second hit of the day for the Blue Devils. Just pitches later, she promptly showed her speed, swiping second and advancing to third on a wild pitch before racing home on a grounder off the bat of Kamryn Jackson for the sole run of the ballgame.
Davis was a force to be reckoned with throughout the season, leading the Blue Devils in six offensive categories, including a .389 batting average and a .653 slugging percentage. Come many a Sunday afternoon in Durham, chances are that if you stopped by East Campus, you’d hear the cheers resulting from her performance.
What Davis, Walters and St. George along with their teammates did on that May day in Kentucky will echo through the next decade as the moment that put Duke softball on the map and announced it was here to stay.
READ MORE about softball's ACC Championship:
HISTORY: Duke softball tops Clemson to win program's first ACC Championship
'Clicking on all cylinders': Duke softball ends historic regular season with sweep of N.C. State
'Built together': Duke softball secures 100th program victory in 4-game sweep of Syracuse
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