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Duke softball 2023 season preview

Junior pitcher Jala Wright finished her 2022 season with a 13-5 record and a 2.09 ERA while tossing a no-hitter.
Junior pitcher Jala Wright finished her 2022 season with a 13-5 record and a 2.09 ERA while tossing a no-hitter.


The Blue Devils’ 2022 season ended at the NCAA super regionals in Los Angeles at the hands of UCLA. Head coach Marissa Young and her “Team Six,” featuring two new assistant coaches in Sydney Romero and Olivia Watkins, enter this season ranked No. 15 and yearning to push one step further and clinch a trip to Oklahoma City. The departures of star pitcher Peyton St. George, outfielder Caroline Jacobsen and infielders Jameson Kavel and Kristina Foreman certainly left a massive hole in Duke’s roster, but the ninth-ranked recruiting class is heading into Durham hungry to continue developing the young program into a perennial powerhouse.

Returning pitcher Jala Wright, junior catcher Kelly Torres and sophomore infielder Ana Gold showed their promise as the Blue Devils rolled through their conference slate last spring, but a tough schedule—both in the ACC and out—will test the Duke team early and often. A run back to the super regionals by way of an ACC title is not out of the question as seniors Gisele Tapia and Kamryn Jackson and graduate student Deja Davis are back to lead the way for the Blue Devils, who were recently picked to finish fourth in the conference by the league’s head coaches. However, this is the first season in the short history of the nascent program where it will be the youth who can truly determine if another banner gets raised. -Micah Hurewitz

New player to watch: Jada Baker

Baker was mentioned here a year ago, but she chose to redshirt her freshman year. The former No. 3 overall recruit is now primed for a breakout season in the Blue Devils' infield, although her place in the defensive lineup looks a bit unclear as the season nears—Gold and Tapia have held solid at their respective positions—but Young may look to platoon Baker into the lineup. Her talent is undeniable: The Longwood, Fla., native is a pure hitter with plus-ability in the field, making her a cannot-miss addition to this year’s Duke squad.

Several other newcomers, including first baseman Kristiana Watson, an Arizona State transfer, and freshman pitcher Cassidy Curd will figure to be instant-impact players for the Blue Devils, leaving Baker as one to really keep an eye out for as the season gets underway. -Hurewitz

Returning players to watch: Francesca Frelick

As Micah mentioned above, Duke is turning over much of its roster from 2022. We know who the veteran stars of 2023 are going to be—no need to question Wright, Davis or Gold. But with this much turnover, the Blue Devils can little afford to have any returners take steps back from 2022. That’s why Francesca Frelick is so important. The junior utility player opened last season as the team’s backup catcher, but supplanted Torres as the primary starter as Torres finished the year on a two-month cold streak. Frelick’s bat, which had impressed in spot starts and pinch-hit appearances, held up with more playing time. But with only 113 career plate appearances to her name, can Frelick keep running an OPS above .900? Because Duke may need her to. -Em Adler

Most anticipated matchup: Florida State, March 24-26

The third-ranked Seminoles will play in Durham for the first time in late March. The Blue Devils have yet to beat powerhouse Florida State during the regular season, as Duke has only come out on top against the Seminoles once in their run to the ACC title in 2021. The series also comes in the middle of the team’s conference slate and could serve as a key juncture for the trajectory of the season.

However, this is far from the team’s only big-ticket matchup. After facing off with No. 14 Washington in the morning, Duke will take on back-to-back national champion and consensus No. 1 Oklahoma on its opening day. This will be the first time Duke has faced the No. 1 overall team in the country and fills out a loaded nonconference schedule that has the Blue Devils slated to face seven ranked opponents in their first two weeks of play. -Molly Honecker

Best-case scenario

This season is a wild card for Duke. The departure of multiple veterans leaves the team with a lot of holes to fill, but they have talent to work with if all goes well. Pitchers Wright, Claire Davidson, and Lillie Walker held a combined 2.09 ERA last year, but will need to significantly up their innings in combination with freshmen Curd and Sophie Garner-MacKinnon. Offensive firepower from newcomers Baker, Aminah Vega and Kairi Rodriguez is promising but needs to replace production from four of Duke’s top six hitters in OPS (minimum 100 at-bats) who graduated or transferred away. Best-case scenario, all the new talent is as advertised, and the Blue Devils could once again hold their own in the upper echelon of the ACC, making a conference tournament run and earning an NCAA bid. -Honecker

Worst-case scenario

Duke learns the hard way that freshmen take time to adjust to the higher level of competition in the ACC (at least, freshmen not named Ana Gold) and that losing nine career All-ACC selections in one offseason is a bit tricky to immediately replace. The Blue Devils are too talented to simply fall all the way to mediocrity, but getting to the ACC semifinals and the NCAA super regionals are tough tasks. -Adler


Hurewitz: 42-12 (18-6 in the ACC), loss in ACC semifinals, loss in NCAA regionals

Honecker: 40-14 (17-7 in the ACC), loss in ACC semifinals, loss in NCAA regionals

Adler: 40-14 (16-8 in the ACC), loss in ACC semifinals, loss in NCAA super regionals

Micah Hurewitz

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


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