The bats were hot for the Blue Devils Wednesday evening as they rolled past UNC Greensboro 8-1 to extend their impressive nine-game win streak.
All of No. 8 Duke’s runs were scored in two innings, and freshmen D’Auna Jennings and Kairi Rodriguez ruled the day at the plate; Jennings went 4-of-4 with one run and three RBIs, and Rodriguez went 3-of-3, including two doubles, with one run and one RBI. On defense the Blue Devils overcame a precarious third inning when a single and three walks resulted in a score and bases loaded for the Spartans, but pitcher Jala Wright was able to close out the inning on the mound and force UNC Greensboro to leave three women on base.
Duke quickly regained composure defensively and the Spartans went three-up, three-down in the fourth, fifth and seventh innings. The Blue Devils’ big hitters exploded in the sixth and scored five runs on five hits, and a short half inning later the Spartans, were decisively sent home with only two hits on the day.
“Those are the championship innings, six and seven, and I think we dominated,” said Jennings.
In addition to hot hitting from Rodriguez and Jennings, three other Blue Devils saw the bat connect in the sixth inning. Junior catcher Kelly Torres and senior infielder Gisele Tapia racked a single each, and freshman infielder Aminah Vega launched a rocket out to right-center field that hit the back wall for a triple to bring home Jennings. Heads-up base-running helped the Blue Devils (37-8) get in scoring position, with both Rodriguez and Tapia able to get to second base on singles. UNC Greensboro (26-18) pulled its second pitcher, freshman Salem Ward, midway through the inning after allowing four runs, but Duke wasn’t done yet. Tapia sent a strike over the Spartans’ third baseman’s head and brought in Vega, who scored the game's final run.
While the final score may not reflect it, a dominant win did not look certain in the first few innings. Wright had 25 pitches in the first inning alone, and with the first two batters resulting in a single and a walk, it looked like UNC Greensboro would strike first. Duke was able to emerge unscathed, however, thanks to reliable in-fielding from shortstop Jada Baker and Vega, and the two runners were left on base.
Wright faltered on the mound in the top of the third inning as well, walking three batters, one of which to bring in a run, but Baker stepped up again at shortstop to make a force out at third with the bases loaded, sending the Spartans back to the dugout before they could incur further damage. Despite the slow start, head coach Marissa Young kept the faith and Wright went on to pitch six innings, with UNC Greensboro’s first run in the third inning being the last she would allow of the game.
“Our team has a lot of history of having success and working out of those situations … they know as a coaching staff, we trust them and I think that goes a long way to give them the opportunity to work through it,” Young said.
Duke’s defense jelled after the dicey third inning, and the Spartans did not garner a single hit for the rest of the game. The Blue Devils, on the other hand, finished the day with 14.
“We have really good upperclassmen leaders who are really good at kind of pulling things together and winding it down … the biggest thing is just getting together collectively as a team and getting on the same page of just keeping it calm, doing your job and simplifying things so we don't get too big,” Rodriguez said.
Offensively, Duke created separation early with three runs in the second inning, but this was more a result of costly errors from UNC Greensboro than anything. With Torres and Rodriguez on base, junior Francesca Frelick stepped up and hit a single to bat in Torres and was able to wheel it to third base on a throwing error that resulted in Rodriguez scoring an unearned run. Frelick scored an unearned run of her own after a Jennings single, who was subsequently able to steal second and then advance to third on another error from the Spartans. Duke was more composed on defense, with only one error and no unearned runs allowed the whole game.
Despite its impressive win streak and low-pressure remaining schedule, Duke is keeping its foot on the gas pedal as the regular season wraps up.
“We also know that unranked losses really hurt you late in the season … Every game in front of us is really important for us to take care of business,” Young said.
The Blue Devils take the field again this weekend in a home series against Georgia Tech with a doubleheader Friday at 4 p.m. and 7 p.m. and a game Sunday at noon.
Get The Chronicle straight to your inbox
Signup for our weekly newsletter. Cancel at any time.