In front of a full capacity crowd at Duke Softball Stadium, the Blue Devils inched one step closer to the Super Regionals.
On Saturday, No. 8-seed Duke blanked Charlotte 5-0 behind seven combined scoreless innings of pitching from freshman Cassidy Curd and junior Lillie Walker.
“I'm really proud of the way that the team responded today. We talked about not playing our best softball yesterday, and I thought that they showed up and competed a lot better for seven innings,” said head coach Marrisa Young. “Charlotte is a good team and I felt like we controlled the momentum the whole way.”
The fourth inning was consequential in the outcome of the contest. In the top of the frame, Curd surrendered two walks to put runners on first and second with one out. Despite a solid showing up until that point from Curd, the Blue Devils were in danger of losing their 2-0 lead.
Young decided to replace the Port St. Lucie, Fla., native with Walker, who responded valiantly to the challenge. Despite being down in the count 3-0 against her first batter, Walker fought her way out of the jam, capping off the inning with a strikeout.
“I've been in the situation before, [Curd] and I work really well off of each other,” said Walker. “I come in with a slower changeup and I'm able to get the hitters off balance…my defense has my back so it makes it really fun.”
With Duke up to bat, the team’s power hitters delivered. After sophomore infielder Ana Gold led off the inning with a double, freshman infielder Aminah Vega hit a double of her own to send Gold home. A third base hit — behind the bat of junior catcher Kelly Torres — scored Vega and gave the Blue Devils a 4-0 lead. Another RBI made it three runs in the inning, and Duke took a five-run lead, never looking back.
“We talk a lot about just winning each inning and I felt like every inning we were continuing to put pressure on the opponent and have opportunities to score which is exactly what we want: to score in multiple innings,” said Young.
After multiple unsuccessful attempts to get back into the game, the seventh inning arrived and the 49ers were down to their last out with Kassidy Krupit at bat. A deep fly ball to right field was fittingly snagged by junior Claire Davidson, officially ending the game. Davidson made multiple impressive catches near the warning track throughout the game — including multiple off of Krupit’s bat — that were consequential in preventing Charlotte’s production.
The star of the early innings was Torres, who produced multiple game-changing plays. From behind the plate in the top of the second inning, she made a remarkable throw to second to pick off MaKalah Mitchell from stealing. Then, in the bottom of the frame, she launched a deep ball to right field for the only home run of the contest.
“Catching is a blessing for hitting because I know the umpire's strike zone, and so today I saw a beach ball instead of a softball,” said Torres.
The speed of the Blue Devils was a clear advantage displayed from the start. Duke was able to consistently put runners in scoring position from stolen bases, and elite base running by the likes of D’Auna Jennings and Deja Davis at the top of the order made it difficult for the 49ers to keep pace. It was a complete, all-around performance for the Blue Devils, who demonstrated their depth and elite pitching.
“We didn't come this far just to come this far,” said Young. “Obviously we have to wait and see who we play but our focus has continued to be to play good Duke softball for seven innings, show up aggressive and continue to attack.”
The team plays Charlotte again Sunday for a chance to make back-to-back Super Regional appearances.
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Ranjan Jindal is a Trinity first-year and an assistant Blue Zone editor of The Chronicle's 119th volume.