Duke softball cleans up NC State en route to series sweep in Raleigh

D'Auna Jennings at bat in Duke's February matchup against NDSU.
D'Auna Jennings at bat in Duke's February matchup against NDSU.

RALEIGH — Looking to put a bow on its best regular season in program history, No. 5 Duke softball traveled down to Raleigh for a series matchup with N.C. State. It got the bow. The Blue Devils swept the weekend, putting a close to regular season play with a record of 44-6 and a 20-4 mark in ACC competition. 

The series, much like the rest of the season, was headlined by outstanding pitching from senior Jala Wright. The Charlotte native went 10.1 innings over the course of the weekend, allowing only three earned runs and eight hits. 

“Jala has been outstanding, and I hope she gets rewarded with ACC Pitcher of the Year,” head coach Marissa Young said. “She’s done everything that she’s needed to do.”

On Sunday, Duke needed every ounce of Wright’s performance. During the afternoon game, the bats weren’t clicking as they have for much of the season, as evidenced by only one hit in the first five innings. The Blue Devils scored two runs on sacrifice outs, but barely held on to a 2-0 lead. Then, in the bottom of the fifth, the Wolfpack fought back to take a 3-2 lead on a bases-loaded single against relief pitcher Lillie Walker, putting Duke in a hole for the first time in the series. 

In the top of the sixth, D’auna Jennings came to the plate with runners on second and third, likely the Blue Devils' best chance to score. Jennings isn’t a power hitter, having only hit five extra base hits until now, but she roped a double to center, driving in both to take a 4-3 lead.

In the seventh, in need of an insurance run, left fielder Amiah Burgess stepped up to the plate with Claire Davidson on third base with two outs. Burgess did what she’s done all week — break out — and brought Davidson to the plate.

“If I wanted to continue to start and be consistent for this team, I just had to go and take it,” Burgess said.

Before this week, Burgess had started only 24 of 40 games and hit three total home runs. This week, she started all five games, hit a pair of home runs and plated seven runners, all while scoring eight runs of her own. The Blue Devils will need strong performances from hitters like Burgess if a run to the biggest stage in college softball is in the cards.

Another key for Duke’s chances at nationals will come from the circle. Its reticence to give up runs has been a trend all season: The team’s combined 1.54 ERA ranks third in the nation. Before the season, the consensus was that sophomore southpaw Cassidy Curd was going to be heading up the rotation, but Wright’s emergence turned the pitching staff into more of a two-headed monster.

“I wanted to be one of the top pitchers in the ACC,” Wright said. “I definitely think I reached that goal. I feel confident with my performance, and I have the utmost confidence in myself.”

That confidence will serve her well in the postseason, where the lights are the brightest and the opponents are some of the best in the country. 

Unfortunately for the Blue Devils, one of their biggest bright-light performers, star second baseman Aminah Vega, went down with a knee injury Friday afternoon. Her absence in the following two games led to a cascade of positional changes, with first baseman Gisele Tapia moving to second, Davidson moving in from the outfield and taking over first and Sarah Goddard entering the starting lineup as right fielder. Young said this lineup will likely remain the norm until Vega’s return, which will happen, according to Young, “when we need her the most.”

For Duke, the ACC tournament starting May 8 might just be a dress rehearsal for a potential deep run into the Women’s College World Series.


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