The independent news organization of Duke University

Duke softball 2022 season preview

The Blue Devils are defending ACC champs but were picked fourth in the conference coaches' poll to start the season.
The Blue Devils are defending ACC champs but were picked fourth in the conference coaches' poll to start the season.

Overview

In their four full seasons as a team, Duke softball has improved by leaps and bounds, but so have a lot of its ACC foes. The Blue Devils battled their way to the ACC Championship last season, yet were ranked fourth in the conference this preseason behind Florida State, Clemson and Virginia Tech. The good news: Duke is as primed as it's ever been. Accolades abound for multiple of the team’s more experienced members who make up the core of the superb pitching staff and improved lineup, including Softball America top-100 preseason selections for pitchers Peyton St. George and Shelby Walters and infielder Deja Davis. This young program has shown flashes of brilliance beyond its years; what comes now is building consistency and confidence to prolong them in the face of big-time pressure. -Molly Honecker

New player to watch: Top three freshmen

If last spring’s conference title marked the arrival of Duke, this current freshman crop truly solidifies it. The No. 4 group in the nation is led by the Nos. 3, 18 and 39 recruits in shortstop Jada Baker, catcher Taylor Krapf and third baseman Ana Gold, respectively. All are highly touted both in the field and at the plate, and more importantly, all play positions where the Blue Devils were weaker last year. Baker’s lauded defense would be a dramatic upgrade, or she could slot at short and push Jameson Kavel back to centerfield for an upgrade at the plate; Krapf hit .577 as a senior in high school, and could see significant playing time with primary catcher Kelly Torres batting just .238 last season with little power to speak of; Ana Gold was Duke’s fall-ball starter at the hot corner, where her power and bat-to-ball skills and arm were much better than last year’s platoon there.

At least one of the team’s top freshmen is going to take the reins quickly. Keep your eyes out for which. -Em Adler

Returning player(s) to watch: Davis, Kavel’s defensive roles

It’s clear just about all the returners are worth watching, as the bunch of seniors and graduate students look to keep up their hot bats and improve in the field. Very few newcomers will be difference-makers for the Blue Devils after seeing the success of last year’s team. However preseason all-ACC selections Deja Davis and Jameson Kavel—the team’s two hottest bats—have some sorting out to do in the field that will make this season worthy of tracking the two stars. I’m not saying no returning players could have the breakout season to push the Blue Devils over the top, as sophomores Claire Davidson and Sarah Goddard will look to expand their roles as well. 

Ultimately, when we are talking about returners, Davis and Kavel come to mind. Davis started last season in the infield and Kavel in the outfield, but after some midseason struggles with the glove from Davis at short, Young made the swap and put her in center and brought Kavel to the infield. While it wasn’t all perfect, her presence in the infield helped bring the Blue Devils out of a nasty losing stretch and back on track. Whether this rearrangement is seen again this season is one of the main things I have circled for this team defensively. - Micah Hurewitz

Most anticipated matchup: Clemson (March 18 - 20)

While Duke will face other intimidating opponents, like No. 2 Oklahoma State on Friday, its series with No. 14 Clemson will be a key juncture to shake up the top of the ACC. Despite being ranked below Clemson, challenging the Tigers is no stranger to the Blue Devils. Duke secured the conference crown last season by downing Clemson, and the teams split their four other games, with neither team coming out on top by more than three runs in any of their meetings. -Honecker

Best-case scenario 

The Blue Devils return nearly all of the stars from last year, with pitchers St. George and Walters ready to continue what the duo started in 2021. The entire starting lineup from last season’s ACC Championship is still intact and a year older, with the pain of missing out on the Super Regionals fueling head coach Marissa Young’s “Team Five” into the season. No one getting injured, no midseason slump and another strong season from both Davis and Kavel can get Duke back to where it ended last season and beyond. This year, starting off ranked No. 15, the Blue Devils seem primed for a step forward, but their inexperience come postseason time may ultimately lead to the fire fizzling out just short of the Women’s College World Series. A Super Regional is nothing to complain about, but this team surely can dominate in the strengthening ACC. -Hurewitz

Worst-case scenario

This team is flat-out talented. There’s fifth-year stars, five-star freshmen and depth every which way, between quality platoon players off the bench and potentially four weekend starters. Outside of a freak spate of injuries or severe COVID outbreak, there’s not a whole lot that could stop this team from contending for a conference title and making noise in June. Let’s say the freshmen are all slow out of the gate, Davis’ knee keeps flaring up, the rotation is still only Walters-St. George, and that last year’s infield defense problems and poor bottom-of-the-lineup hitting don’t improve. Now we’re just describing last year’s team, one which won an ACC Championship and missed the Super Regionals by just one run. Sounds pretty good, eh? Worst-case scenario is falling in the ACC semifinal game and only making it to an NCAA regional. -Adler

Predictions

Em Adler: 43-6 (22-2 in the ACC), loss in ACC finals, loss in NCAA Super Regionals

Molly Honecker: 39-10 (19-5 in the ACC), loss in ACC finals, loss in NCAA Super Regionals

Micah Hurewitz: 41-8 (19-5 in ACC), loss in ACC semifinals, loss in NCAA Super Regionals


Micah Hurewitz | Sports Managing Editor

Micah Hurewitz is a Trinity junior and a sports managing editor of The Chronicle's 118th volume.


Discussion

Share and discuss “Duke softball 2022 season preview” on social media.