No. 3 Duke softball grabs 20th win in a row with hard-fought triumph at Liberty

Kelly Torres rounds the bases during Duke's matchup with North Dakota State.
Kelly Torres rounds the bases during Duke's matchup with North Dakota State.

Duke played with fire and walked away without getting burned. 

Coming off of two doubleheader wins against South Dakota State last week, the third-ranked Blue Devils traveled north for a matchup against Liberty. Duke had not been down against an opponent since Feb. 25, always striking first and fast, riding to a 20-game win streak. With the high-powered offense practically expected from Duke at this point, Tuesday afternoon’s game against the Lady Flames looked to be no different. But it wasn’t such a clear-cut path to an eventual 4-1 victory for the Blue Devils. 

For most of the game, Duke was down 1-0. On sophomore pitcher Cassidy Curd’s first pitch of the game, Liberty’s Rachel Roupe ground out a homer over the right field fence to put the Lady Flames up on the Blue Devils, breaking the shutout streak the team had started way back in February against Elon. For the first time in weeks, Duke was playing from behind, foreign territory for a team that had gotten used to putting up big numbers against its opponents. 

“The big thing is just not to make too much of that,” Duke head coach Marissa Young said of her team being down early in the game.“It was the first pitch, literally first batter of the game. We still had seven innings to play our game … inning after inning our bats got better, which is exactly what we're looking for.”

For the bats to get better for the Blue Devils (20-1, 3-0 in the ACC), they first had to contend with Liberty star freshman pitcher Kaylan Yoder. A tight strike zone from the umpire left Yoder and both of Duke’s pitchers — Curd and senior Lillie Walker — struggling to reliably throw inside the boundary. 

“I thought it was a really good challenge for our pitchers, honestly, today of having to adjust,” Young said. “They had to be a little bit more gritty today.” 

Yoder pulled through for Liberty (11-12) and found her pitching stride first, managing to keep the Blue Devils' usually dynamic offense in check as she struck out batter after batter, leaving Duke scoreless for the first four innings. Even with two runners on base in the second inning after Yoder first hit senior Kelly Torres with a pitch then walked freshman Amiah Burgess, the Blue Devils still could not exploit the opportunity to put runs on the board. 

It was the Blue Devils’ defense that kept Liberty from running away with the game, holding it to one run when Duke’s offense could not quite put the pieces together. Senior Sarah Goddard slammed into the right-field fence to catch a foul ball, for Liberty’s third out at a time when her team needed a key defensive stop. 

“Hitting is going to come and go, but our pitching and our defense have to be on all the time,” Young said. “And I think the defense recognized that the pitchers were going to be challenged today with that zone.”

But, as it always seems to, the hitting eventually came through for the Blue Devils. A Goddard homer at the top of the fifth put Duke on the scoreboard and tied the game. After that, in the sixth inning, the home runs just kept coming. Duke’s reliable offensive weapons in junior Ana Gold and Torres hit back to back bombs, giving the Blue Devils the lead and causing Liberty head coach Dot Richardson to pull Yoder, who had previously kept Duke in line so well, from the mound. The change in pitcher did not stop Duke’s momentum. Shortly after, Jada Baker joined the home run party, putting Duke up 4-1. 

With the lead secured, Duke’s defense continued its stellar performance. Walker, who came in to pitch for Curd in the bottom of the fourth, would not allow another Liberty hit for the rest of the game, subduing the Lady Flames and handing her team the gritty win. 

Next, the Blue Devils travel to Tallahassee, Fla., for a three-game weekend series against ACC rival Florida State.


Share and discuss “No. 3 Duke softball grabs 20th win in a row with hard-fought triumph at Liberty” on social media.