The second-seeded Blue Devils needed a flawless game to take down the top-seeded Seminoles in the ACC tournament final Saturday. Up until the seventh inning, they had it; leaping grabs, layout catches and timely Florida State errors had the game knotted up at 1-1.
Then, Duke’s story turned sour. With just one out to get before extra innings, Bethaney Keen sent the ball out to shallow left. A failed diving attempt by left fielder Kamryn Jackson gave the speedy Devyn Flaherty enough time to score all the way from first and win the game in walk-off fashion for Florida State.
In a game filled with missed opportunities and stellar defense on both sides, the dream of a second ACC tournament championship in three seasons was left unrealized for the Blue Devils, as they fell 2-1 to the Seminoles.
“I'm just really proud of this younger skin back to the ACC championship game,” head coach Marissa Young said after the game. “That was a tough loss, but [it was] really great to see them compete with Florida State, work out of a lot of jams. I think being in that atmosphere, being in that tough game is gonna prepare us well to continue to do well in the postseason.”
The winning run for Florida State came in the seventh, but the Seminoles threatened to score multiple times throughout the game. In the bottom of the second inning, Jackson threw a laser from left to prevent Mack Leonard from scoring on a tag up. And, in the bottom of the sixth, sophomore Ana Gold made a remarkable play at the hot corner to take a double away from Michaela Edenfield.
With a runner on first, the Blue Devils’ third baseman jumped in the air to catch the ball, but dropped it on the transfer. On the field, the umpires did not call the out, so when Gold threw the ball away, Jahni Kerr made it all the way to third. However, after a meeting, the umpires determined that Kerr never tagged up at first after the original catch, resulting in a double play for Duke.
The chaos of the game was not confined to one play, though, with the Blue Devils (45-10, 19-5 in the ACC) manufacturing their lone run thanks to uncharacteristic sloppiness from the Seminoles (50-8, 22-2).
Jackson led off the top of the fifth with a hard ground ball to Florida State shortstop Josie Muffley, who let the ball between her legs. The error allowed Jackson to reach second, and she was moved to third via a sacrifice bunt from freshman D’Auna Jennings. Jackson finally scored when the ball got past the catcher Edenfield, allowing Duke to tie the game 1-1.
“It’s a dogfight, and just being able to use any little breaks that go your way to create momentum [helps],” Young said about the play. “We had a few opportunities where we left some runners on base and just [needed to] figure out how to have better at bats with runners in scoring position.”
On the other side of the ball, Freshman Cassidy Curd, who threw a no-hitter just a day prior in the semifinal game against No. 3-seed Clemson, started again Saturday for the Blue Devils. However, the Seminoles were able to jump on the southpaw in a way that the Tigers were not. From the first batter, Florida State made hard contact, culminating in an RBI double from Kerr in the bottom of the third to open the game’s scoring.
While Curd was not able to dominate the same way she did against Clemson, lasting just over two innings, junior Lillie Walker picked her up with four solid innings of relief. Until the walk-off single in the seventh, Walker kept the Florida State lineup quiet, in large part thanks to a changeup that allowed her to keep hitters guessing.
“Lillie Walker coming in to pitch for us, and being so dominant really kept FSU off balance and kept us in that ball game,” Young said.
Saturday showed Duke what it takes to win in high-stakes games. The Blue Devils missed on multiple situations to score throughout the game — they had a home run robbed in the top of the first, senior Gisele Tapia could not get a run across with the bases loaded in the third and the team finished with seven runners left on base — that made the difference between a loss and a championship.
Despite the loss, Duke is likely set to host its second-straight NCAA Regional in just its sixth season in existence, starting Friday.
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Dom Fenoglio is a Trinity first-year and an assistant Blue Zone editor of The Chronicle's 119th volume.