It was sunny Puerto Vallarta that would get the first taste of Duke softball this year, as the Devils made the trip down to Mexico to ring in the new season.
For the second year in a row, No. 5 Duke would be tested early. On Thursday afternoon — their very first contest of the young campaign — the Blue Devils squared off against college softball’s perennial superpower: No. 1 Oklahoma. Coming off their third-consecutive national title, the Sooners are once again favorites to go the distance this year. They certainly played like royalty, dispatching Duke 3-0 en route to an unbeaten weekend.
All three of the runs were conceded in the third inning, as some nagging control issues would see Oklahoma hang three runs on sophomore pitcher Cassidy Curd. Curd had done well to stifle the star-studded Sooner lineup up until that point, and the bullpen would ensure that no more runs were pushed across after she was relieved.
Contrary to what the scoreline may indicate, however, the Blue Devils (3-1) did not go down without a fight. Having been held to two hits in the first six innings, Duke was knocking on the door in the final frame. Senior Claire Davidson would work a walk, followed promptly by a single from sophomore Aminah Vega. Kelly Torres would then be hit by a pitch to load the bases with one out, but it was ultimately too little too late as Oklahoma would retire the next two batters to snuff out the Blue Devils’ rally.
Undeterred, Duke would bounce back in dominant fashion in Friday’s fixtures. The team started the day with a morning contest against Iowa State, during which the Blue Devils would log a whopping 16 runs in a mercy-rule thrashing of the Cyclones, who would only score three.
Headlined by a six-RBI outing from Davidson, four of which came from a third-inning grand slam, Duke came out of the gates swinging. Putting up seven runs in the first two frames with a combination of big extra-base hits and clinical singles to the empty space, the Blue Devils were firmly in the driver's seat and refused to let go of the wheel. The one-two punch of graduate transfer Dani Drogemuller and sophomore Sophie Garner-MacKinnon would stymie any efforts at a comeback for Iowa State, and Duke would close out the game in five innings.
After dispatching the Cyclones, it was right back to work for the Blue Devils as they faced their second ranked opponent in as many days: No. 18. Nebraska. Duke opened the scoring in the top of the first with a two-RBI double off the bat of Vega, building on the momentum from the earlier win. The bats would stay hot, with junior Kelsey Zampa notching two RBIs (single and squeeze bunt) and redshirt sophomore Jada Baker launching a solo shot to round out the scoring.
The true star of the show, however, was on the mound — senior pitcher Jala Wright. Wright’s performance against the Huskers was nothing short of spectacular, tossing six innings of no-hit ball. Her one slip would occur in the game’s final inning, when senior Billie Andrews took her deep to left field. This lone notch on the scorecard separated Wright from a perfect game, but the bats rallied behind her complete-game performance and the Devils knocked off Nebraska 6-1.
In their final test before returning to Durham, Duke faced Long Beach State under the lights on Saturday night. Davidson would pick up her seventh RBI on the weekend in the first inning, driving in sophomore D’Auna Jennings with a single up the middle. Drogemuller would get the nod for the Devils this time around, pitching three scoreless innings before ceding the mound to Curd. Plagued by similar control issues as those exhibited against Oklahoma, Curd would be relieved after walking four batters in less than two innings pitched. A squeeze bunt from junior Ana Gold would plate a much-needed insurance run, and Wright would close out the game for Duke without allowing a single hit in her 2.2 innings pitched.
This 2-0 victory was the cherry on top of a mostly positive first showing for the Blue Devils, who return with a 3-1 record ahead of their home opener against North Dakota State Wednesday evening.
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