In the bottom of the seventh, a gloom had settled over the Blue Devil dugout. While they led 1-0 for most of the contest, Notre Dame pulled out all the stops in the top of the inning to earn the lead at 3-1. Duke needed a Hail Mary to eke out a victory, and a win seemed near impossible. Then Ana Gold stepped up to the plate.
“Coach told me don’t try to do too much,” said Gold. “I was just going out there looking for a pitch I could barrel, and that’s what I did.”
Putting the team on her back is nothing new to the sophomore, whose two Saturday home runs lifted the Blue Devils past the Fighting Irish, 6-2. With the pressure on once more, Gold did not disappoint as she hit the ball out of the park for a walk-off home run, batting in two teammates along the way.
No. 8 Duke (17-4, 2-1 in the ACC) earned the 4-3 victory over the unranked Fighting Irish Sunday, giving it a series win. After losing the opener, 5-4, the Blue Devils rebounded by taking the second game before ultimately pulling out the victory in the third contest. As the first contest in ACC play, Duke proved themselves to once more be a threat for the conference crown.
“I’m just really proud of my team’s fight yesterday, bouncing back after the loss on Friday,” said head coach Marissa Young. “And then obviously, bouncing back today after going down and having three outs left to win the game is huge.”
For the most part, the game was evenly matched until the final inning, as the pressure to take the series was on. The trouble started off an error from Gold, whose fielding struggles allowed Jane Kronenberger to get aboard. Payton Tidd then hit a single up the middle, putting two runners on.
After calling in freshman Cassidy Curd for the top of the sixth, Young opted to return her starter, junior Jala Wright, to the circle. While the Charlotte native was expected to be a saving grace, she instead added fuel to the fire. Notre Dame's Joley Mitchell stepped into the batter’s box and crushed the ball over the fence for three RBI to bring the score to 3-1. The Blue Devil defense earned another out after Rachel Allen grounded out to Curd, but it seemed as though the damage had already been done.
With one out needed to head to the home half, Duke turned to junior Lillie Walker, who had only pitched five innings on the year before relieving Wright. The Inola, Okla., native did not flinch at the opportunity, using her eight total pitches to walk Mickey Winchell before forcing Leea Hanks to ground out to second.
“I think the big thing is just trying to change momentum in that instance,” said Walker. “I just wanted to come in and bring my best stuff.”
“You don’t want to see those mistakes made,” Young added. “[We] still got a young group, a new group on the infield, [and we are] seeing them continue to learn and get better.”
Freshman D’Auna Jennings opened the inning with a single to short before senior Gisele Tapia drew a walk. With two runners on base, Gold stepped up when the pressure was on. She went 3-for-8 on the weekend after going 5-for-7 in the Wednesday double-header against N.C. Central, and the Ballston Spa, N.Y., native had a total of four homers with 13 RBI on the week.
Other than the final inning of intense action, the game was a quiet one as both teams relied on stellar defense. As the starting pitcher, Wright threw for five no-hit innings with six strikeouts to her name before being replaced by Curd. On the batting side, things were quiet until junior Sarah Goddard knocked one over the fence with no runners on base. The left fielder was the lone tally on the board until the chaos of the seventh. For their part, Notre Dame (11-6, 1-2) proved to be a fierce competitor as Duke’s first taste of ACC play.
“Notre Dame’s a great team in the ACC, so to start off with a series win against them is really huge,” said Young. “And hopefully we’ll continue to build momentum for us. Every game counts as we get down the stretch.”
The Blue Devils will be back in action Wednesday when they travel to face off against Charlotte before returning home for a three-game weekend series against Louisville at home.
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