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Duke softball edged late by UCLA in super regional debut

Jala Wright helped Duke jump out to a 2-0 lead before UCLA surged late.
Jala Wright helped Duke jump out to a 2-0 lead before UCLA surged late.

In the Blue Devils’ first-ever super regional game, it was a night in which all was going well until it wasn’t.

No.12-seed Duke engaged in a battle Friday against No. 5-seed UCLA at Easton Stadium in Los Angeles with the home Bruins prevailing 3-2 thanks to a dramatic, momentum-shifting sixth inning. For Duke, a quick 2-0 start made it look like it was smooth sailing, but sophomore pitcher Jala Wright ran into some trouble and the tides turned.

"[UCLA] showed a lot of a fight tonight," head coach Marissa Young said. "There's things we could do to clean up for a game tomorrow: playing some better defense and making adjustments. [Wright] threw well and gave us a chance to fight and win this ballgame."

The Blue Devils surrendered their small lead in a matter of moments as UCLA put together a furious rally, tallying the final three runs of the ballgame as the clocks ticked over to Saturday back in Durham. A fifth-inning double closed the gap to one, setting up the Bruins for the following game-altering inning. After tossing three perfect innings to polish off Georgia in the regional final Sunday, Duke and Wright found some adversity as soon as first baseman Rachel Crabtree’s error allowed the first UCLA batter of the inning to reach.

"I thought that [Wright] was doing her job. We just didn't make plays behind her," Young said.

A fielder’s choice and a walk later, the tying run was in scoring position with the momentum all in the Bruins’ favor. Earlier in the evening, the momentum belonged to Young’s Duke team, but as Wright's load increased, it turned on its head. A two-out double from UCLA pitcher and pinch hitter Megan Faraimo brought in the game-tying and winning runs, all but sealing up the first chapter of the best-of-three set.

Star pitcher Peyton St. George did not appear for the Blue Devils in Friday night’s affair despite warming in the bullpen prior to the winning run crossing the plate.

Faraimo didn’t just win UCLA the game with her batting, as the de facto ace of the Bruins' staff—which owns the second-lowest ERA in the nation—shut down the Blue Devils from the third inning onward. The redshirt junior embodied “settling in” and went on to retire 14 straight Duke batters with 10 strikeouts. The initially wobbly Faraimo’s superhero effort saved her team from facing a potentially season-ending game two. 

"We really tried to talk about narrowing the zone and hunting a particular pitch, but she's so good at mixing things off and hitting different parts of the zone," Young said.

Those first two Duke runs came in the first and second innings, the first on a Crabtree double to score graduate student Jameson Kavel, who reached on a leadoff walk. The second arrived on an Ana Gold homer to left center that she dug out of the bottom of the zone and into the California sky. Back-to-back singles to start the third would go for naught after a Kristina Foreman grounder promptly ended the threat with a double play—retrospectively a turning point in the ballgame and the series.

"We're expecting every game to be tight," Young said. "It's a dogfight between two great teams, and it's really going to come down to the team that makes plays and has the timely hitting."

The two teams battle again at 8:30 p.m. Saturday with a win forcing a decisive third game Sunday and a loss sending Duke packing.


Micah Hurewitz | Sports Managing Editor

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


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