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Jala Wright throws no-hitter against Army, Duke softball splits games with Michigan in Duke Invitational

Sophomore pitcher Jala Wright turned in a no-hitter against Army.
Sophomore pitcher Jala Wright turned in a no-hitter against Army.

The Blue Devils entered their fourth home invitational looking to recover from their top-five loss to Florida Feb. 18. They got two opportunities to notch a ranked win against Michigan, both times carrying momentum from early-afternoon run-rule wins.

Despite a tough Friday night loss to the Wolverines, Duke came back with a vengeance.

The tenth-ranked Blue Devils went 4-1 at the Duke Invitational, outscoring their opponents 44-5 and losing only to No. 17 Michigan 3-2 Friday before taking their Saturday rematch 6-1. Pitchers Peyton St. George and Jala Wright split the two-game set against the Wolverines with Shelby Walters, last year’s ERA leader, out for a few weeks with a foot injury, per head coach Marissa Young. Wright tossed 6.2 total innings of one-run ball against the Wolverines, while St. George had 3.1 innings of scoreless relief Saturday with four strikeouts. The bats recovered from their difficulties with high fastballs and runners in scoring position Friday to make the most of their two-out chances Saturday.

Across the weekend, Wright had a 0.63 ERA and 0.34 WHIP in 11.2 innings with 12 strikeouts, while St. George allowed three runs (two unearned) in 9.1 innings with 10 strikeouts. First baseman Rachel Crabtree led the bats with a ridiculous .700/.733/1.100 line and six runs, while second baseman Kristina Foreman, right fielder Caroline Jacobsen and shortstop Jameson Kavel combined to hit .488/.521/.854 with 15 runs and 12 RBI.

“I think we've built off a really good start,” said head coach Marissa Young. “We understand we can score runs in a lot of ways, and we've got a lot of good arms in the circle. So we're excited to just show up every weekend with consistency and play Duke softball.”

Though Wright shut down Michigan (8-5) in her time in the circle, St. George had to battle through trouble with locating her pitches Friday. The sophomore pitcher gave up singles to the first two Wolverines, and while Foreman bobbling a routine grounder made their runs unearned, St. George was only able to get out of the inning thanks to a perfect relay home from Kavel to prevent a third run.

The Blue Devils (13-3) had a number of chances to close the gap early on but stranded two in each of the first three innings. And they would have had the bases loaded with one out in the second, had center fielder Kamryn Jackson not left first base early when designated player Claire Davidson took a walk. The lone Duke run in Michigan starter Alex Storako’s six innings came on an error, when the Wolverine third baseman threw past first.

Wright took over for St. George after that and continued her historic weekend with three nearly perfect innings. The Duke offense took until the seventh to threaten again, when pinch hitter Gisele Tapia, Crabtree and Kavel led off with back-to-back-to-back singles, cutting the lead to 3-2. With runners on first and second, no outs and Duke down one run, Jacobsen and Foreman struck out before Jackson grounded out to seal the loss.

The rematch started slowly, but the Blue Devils quickly showed that they wouldn't make the same mistakes twice. Wright allowed the leadoff Wolverine to single, then recorded 10 straight outs. She ran into some trouble after, allowing a double and a ground-ball single, plus a sacrifice fly. Wright's weekend ended there, as St. George came on and made the third out of the fourth.

St. George allowed only two walks through three more scoreless innings—but her relief gem was hardly even needed, as the offense put up five runs before she even entered the game. Freshman third baseman Ana Gold scored two in the second on a bases-loaded single, and Jackson hit an opposite-field three-run home run in the third. And both came with two outs, something the Blue Devils struggled mightily with last season.

Duke won 6-1, and it could’ve been even more lopsided had the team not cashed in only once after loading the bases with no outs in the fifth.

The Blue Devils dominated the earlier part of the week, outscoring Army 21-1 across two games. Wright did such a good impression of Walters Thursday night that it was hard to tell that the latter was missing. Wright didn’t allow a ball out of the infield through five innings, only getting into two three-strike counts. She closed the fifth with her seventh strikeout swinging for her 16th consecutive out—needing an extra one because catcher Kelly Torres allowed one batter to reach on an error after a strikeout.

Duke had already staked itself out to a 4-0 lead entering the fifth, and to lead off the home side, the first four Blue Devils reached. Sacrifice flies from Gold and sophomore Sarah Goddard and a walk-off walk from sophomore Francesca Frelick gave Duke the mercy-rule win.

Just like that, Wright went from readying for the sixth to having Duke’s second-ever solo no-hitter. Following in the tradition Walters set in her no-hitter last year, Wright had barely an idea what she’d accomplished until her teammates swarmed her coming out of the dugout.

“I actually didn't know until after the game,” Wright said. “And I was like, ‘wow’—I just couldn't believe it…I was so happy. I mean, to make history, and then to put that in my confidence is big. It just means a lot to me.”

The Blue Devils travel to Atlanta to open ACC play at Georgia Tech beginning Friday.

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