The last time Duke faced Clemson in the ACC tournament, in the 2021 championship game, Shelby Walters and Peyton St. George held the Tigers to just three hits and the Blue Devils took home their first ACC tournament title. The latest meeting may have been even more memorable.
Striking out eight batters and allowing just two baserunners all day — both on hit by pitches — freshman pitcher Cassidy Curd threw the sixth no-hitter in program history, and the first solo for seven innings.
On Friday, the second-seeded Blue Devils rode Curd’s historic performance to a 2-0 semifinal win against the third-seeded Tigers, setting up a championship matchup against No. 1-seed Florida State. Both of Duke’s runs came via situational hitting and small ball, but a relatively quiet day from the lineup had no effect thanks to the domination in the circle.
“This is a fun time of year. It’s win or go home,” head coach Marissa Young said after the team’s win. “Cassidy Curd came out and threw a spectacular game, and we had some timely hitting. It’s always good to win against a good team this time of year.”
Every no-hitter has at least one play that, had it gone awry, could have ruined the moment. For Curd and the Blue Devils (45-9, 19-5 in the ACC), it came with one out in the top of the seventh when Clemson right fielder Caroline Jacobsen sent a ball out to shallow right.
Second baseman Aminah Vega appeared to be under it, but she was called off by right fielder Francesca Frelick, who laid out to make the catch. Curd was able to breathe a sigh of relief, and moments later she got Alia Logoleo to ground out to Vega to secure the win.
However, that was not the only time that the southpaw faced adversity, as the Tigers (46-9, 18-6) worked their way to seven full counts, including five straight between the fourth and fifth innings. This stretch came when Curd was on her second trip through the heart of Clemson’s lineup, which features three players that hit over .300. The biggest moment of this period came with one out in the top of the fourth, when Curd was able to battle all the way back from a 3-0 count on the Tiger’s star two-way player Valerie Cagle (who is hitting .457 on the year) to strike her out.
“She is just a gamer and loves those big moments,” Young said. “She has always found a way to take her game to the next level in those big moments, and I think the team really feeds off of that and has a lot of confidence playing behind her.”
On the offensive side of things, Duke jumped out to an early lead and never looked back. Facing an ace in her own respect in Clemson pitcher Millie Thompson, the team knew that any run it could get across would be invaluable.
So, when Vega reached on an error by Clemson second baseman Maddie Moore in the bottom of the second, the Blue Devils chose to bunt her into scoring position. The decision paid off when junior Claire Davidson drove the ball to center for a single that scored Vega.
An inning later, Duke again manufactured offense, this time with three batters reaching on infield singles. A hard ground ball off the pitcher’s glove, a bunt down the first base line and a ground ball to short that senior Gisele Tapia beat out by a step loaded the bases for home-run leader Ana Gold. While she could not go deep for the 19th time this season, Gold drove the ball deep enough to right to score pinch runner Kelsey Zampa.
While those two runs were all the lineup was able to muster, they were enough to knock Thompson out of the game and give Curd a lead to hold onto.
“It definitely takes the pressure off of her being able to score first, and we scored in multiple innings,” Young said. “We just weren’t able to really get things going, so that will be the goal tomorrow against Florida State, to have more offensive production. We’re gonna need another tight game against a really good team and be ready to compete for seven innings.”
In order for Duke to win its second ACC tournament championship, it will have to take down the reigning champs in Florida State Saturday afternoon. As phenomenal as Curd’s outing was today, the Blue Devils have little time to celebrate. The Seminoles took two of three in the regular-season series, and they are coming off a 9-1 demolition of Virginia Tech.
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Dom Fenoglio is a Trinity first-year and an assistant Blue Zone editor of The Chronicle's 119th volume.