On senior weekend, the Blue Devils showed just how mature their game is.
No. 8 Duke swept Georgia Tech in three well-rounded performances at Duke Softball Stadium. Clutch power hitting from up and down the order, controlled defense and solid pitching led to 11-3 run-rule and 4-3 walk-off victories Friday before a confident 6-2 win Sunday.
Veterans Deja Davis and Kamryn Jackson made key offensive contributions and were honored during the game Sunday, along with Julia Boyet. Freshman D’Auna Jennings batted .455 with two key RBIs, knocking the game-winner in game two, and sophomore infielder Ana Gold collected a homer in games one and three, securing the Duke single-season home run record Sunday with her 18th.
Entering the fourth inning of game three, Duke (40-8, 16-5 in the ACC) led 3-1. Davis bounced a hit to the Yellow Jacket shortstop but hustled down the line for an infield single. After senior Gisele Tapia walked, up to the plate stepped Gold. After two foul chops, she teed off and sent the ball over the left-field fence. Her 18 home runs this season eclipse the mark set by Jameson Kavel last year and tie her for second in the nation.
“It feels awesome, just being able to do it in my sophomore season,” said Gold of setting the record. “I know I have a lot more to go, a lot more room to grow, but just being able to do that and helping my team while doing it, it's the best feeling.”
The second game Friday saw an equally impressive Duke offensive showing. The Blue Devils and Yellow Jackets (24-24, 6-15) traded two home runs each, and Duke entered the seventh behind 3-2.
Kairi Rodriguez walked on four straight balls before graduating senior Jackson came to the plate. The outfielder has seen less playing time this year with the addition of new recruits, but she came through for her team, lining a shot down the first base side that sent Rodriguez flying around to tie the game.
Then Jennings, who had gone 0-for-3 that game before then, stepped up. After falling behind 0-2, she slapped a high pitch over the head of the shallow Georgia Tech center fielder, which comfortably sent home Jada Baker for the winning run.
“It felt good, simply because, my first three at-bats she was getting me with the up pitch. So my last at-bat, just being able to make those adjustments,” said Jennings on the walk-off knock. “I just wanted to be the one for the team to just do the job, put the ball on the ground or put it in the air and tagging, either way, just do the job.”
Game one saw the long ball dominate for both teams. Duke and Georgia Tech logged five home runs back and forth through the early frames, including Gold’s first of the series and Davis’ third of the season. Duke’s bats fully broke it open in the fifth, with Vega hitting the game-winning single to center field after Gold was intentionally walked.
In the circle, Duke was dependable, with the young duo of Jala Wright and Cassidy Curd allowing seven earned runs over 17 innings of work. Both were working the zone, generating a lot of whiffs to go along with weak contact, but they both were also weak to the home run, each allowing two over the weekend.
What may be the clearest demonstration of growth in the series was the Blue Devils’ defensive effectiveness. Core infielders Aminah Vega, Gold and Tapia handled routine and moving plays with ease, and the outfield was mostly spotless. Jennings made a few impressive snags, including all the way over in the right-center gap, but held onto it for too long, allowing the tying run to score in the third inning Sunday.
Duke’s gloves logged one official error on the series, a significant improvement compared to earlier in the season. The error came Sunday on a bouncer to Baker at short, who appeared to mishandle the ball. After the inning, she was subbed out due to an injury to her hand, and multiple players were shifted around the infield.
This included Davis, who moved to first base. A fan would never know she was out of her normal position as she handled everything that came to her with ease, including a bouncer in the gap between her and second base.
“She has practiced at a lot of different positions, just knowing the time may come where we want to keep her bat in but need her somewhere, and she's a great team player,” said Young of Davis. “Selfless, willing to go wherever we put her. She made some really nice plays, showed off her range there and did a great job.”
Even though Young took the time to cap off the night by inducing some wicked whiffs from the home run derby participants after game three, the regular season isn’t done yet. After a midweek matchup with Longwood, Duke heads to Pittsburgh next weekend with the hope of boosting its position within the upper echelon of the ACC. The Panthers are second-to-last in the conference, while conference juggernauts No. 5 Florida State and No. 6 Clemson are slated to face Louisville and Virginia Tech, the third and fifth teams in the ACC, respectively.
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