It might have felt like 100 degrees Friday in Duke Softball Stadium, but Duke’s pitching was cold as ice.
No. 12-seed Duke bested America East champion UMBC 4-0 in its first game of the NCAA Durham Regional. Graduate student Peyton St. George was the star of the show, taking the circle for the complete-game shutout and allowing just one batter to reach base. Defensive poise from shortstop Jameson Kavel, third baseman Ana Gold and first baseman Rachel Crabtree plus second baseman Kristina Foreman’s 15th home run of the season gave the Blue Devils the advantage before a three-run burst in the sixth put the game away.
“I’m a fifth-year and I still have to break down my mechanics every now and then so we did that this week, went back to the basics just so I could really trust my stuff. It’s easy when I have such a good offense and defense behind me,” said St. George on how she was able to excel after some challenging conference tournament appearances. “I can fully buy into trusting my stuff and have full confidence. That’s never an issue, it was just a matter of back to the basics, focus on your mechanics and keep things simple. Today I just kept things really simple.”
St. George was on the Retrievers right out of the gate, retiring the first nine UMBC batters and logging four strikeouts along the way. Her second, third and fourth strikeouts of the day paint a picture of her dominance.
For her second, St. George faced first baseman Madison Wilson. St. George started off the plate outside, inducing whiff number one. She came right back in the zone with a fastball, which blew past Wilson’s swing. For strike three, she turned to the rise ball, which sailed up Wilson’s shoulders but induced a third whiff anyway.
For her third strikeout, St. George twice laced pitches right on the inside black to third baseman Anna Lonchar, earning two called strikes before spinning an unhittable pitch past Lonchar’s bat low and outside.
For her fourth, against opposing pitcher Courtney Coppersmith, St. George used a wicked changeup for the strikeout.
All in all, St. George tallied eight strikeouts, all swinging, and the contact UMBC did make was easily handled. The only Retriever to reach base on a hit, shortstop leadoff hitter Karly Keating, did so on a soft Texas Leaguer that sailed just out of reach of a stretching Foreman.
That was one of just three UMBC batted balls that left the infield, which is attributable not only to St. George’s pitching but Duke’s lockdown defense in the infield.
Gold, Kavel, Foreman, Crabtree and sophomore catcher Francesca Frelick handled everything that came at them. Foreman and Frelick both nabbed high fly balls in the first, and Kavel cleanly collected two hard ground balls in the second to flag down runners at first. Gold kept busy in the hot corner, picking three grounders for plays at first and logging an assist to second for a fielder's choice to retire Keating.
In the opening inning, it looked like Coppersmith might be similarly hard to beat—which would fit the bill of her nation-leading 0.26 ERA entering the contest—but Foreman broke through in the second.
After getting fooled by two rise balls, the senior would not make the same mistake again. When Coppersmith came up and in for the third time, Foreman turned on it, sending a shot high and far over the left-field fence.
“I was looking for a good pitch. We knew she was throwing up, and our goal was to get on top of the ball,” said Foreman of her home run. “I kind of got dug into a count that I didn’t want to be in but I stuck to the plan, saw the ball and was aiming to the top of the ball.”
It seemed like that might end up being Coppersmith’s lone slip-up, as she only allowed a pair of walks to designated player Gisele Tapia and left fielder Kyla Morris in the fourth and fifth, collecting weak flyouts and strikeouts from the rest of the batters.
“Our pitch selection wasn’t great today. I think that being anxious and wanting to do too much came into play,” said head coach Marrisa Young on how the team needs to adjust before its next game. “I think that having gotten that first game out they’ll come in a little more composed tomorrow and do what they’ve done all year, which is hunt good pitches.”
Duke eventually got Coppersmith’s number in the sixth after a little bit of drama on the basepaths with an obstruction and interference call on Kavel.
From there, Crabtree knocked a shot to the right-center gap for a double, scoring Tapia. A Foreman single scored another run, right fielder Caroline Jacobsen hit into a fielder's choice and one pinch-hit Deja Davis double to right center later, Jacobsen rounded the bases as well.
St. George sealed the deal in the seventh, having faced only one more batter than the minimum. She sent down the last three batters on a shallow infield fly she snagged herself, another pick by Gold at third and a final Kavel-to-Crabtree laser.
Duke next faces Liberty at 1 p.m. Saturday. The Flames defeated Georgia 2-0 in Friday's matchup and bested Duke 8-3 in the teams’ regular-season bout.
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