Duke softball wins twice with heroic extra-inning efforts, advances to ACC Championship

Amiah Burgess was a big factor in Duke's back-to-back wins.
Amiah Burgess was a big factor in Duke's back-to-back wins.

When the going gets tough, the tough get going. 

Duke became the first team in conference history to play two extra-inning games in the ACC tournament, and, of course, became the first team to win two. 

The top-seeded Blue Devils defeated No. 5-seed Clemson 4-3 in the tenth inning to advance to the ACC Championship. This came a day following a 2-0 defeat of No. 9-seed Boston College in the quarterfinals off an Aminah Vega walk-off home run in the tenth inning as well. 

This set of games will go down as one of the most memorable in the program’s young history, with the tournament being the first hosted in Durham. From Jala Wright’s program record-breaking 17 strikeouts Thursday to Amiah Burgess’s heroics to Vega’s home run, the Blue Devils demonstrated clutch play at the right moments. 

Of her star performers this week, head coach Marissa Young saw one common thread — hard work. Her descriptions of her players ranged from “unbeatable” to “fighter” to “sponge.”

The unbeatable was, of course, Wright. The senior ace threw 167 pitches against the Eagles, going all ten innings in Duke’s longest game of the season to that point. Each and every one of her 17 strikeouts was needed, as Wright willed the game to continue until the Blue Devils’ bats finally got going. Up until this point, Duke (46-6, 20-4 in the ACC) hadn’t needed long to provide Wright with some run support, but after the team’s 10-day break, a time packed with finals, the bats went cold.

“I just tried to keep her calm and relaxed and get her to keep doing what she was doing, and not try to do more or press,” Young said. “It was just a matter of time before the offense would score for her. When she's throwing that good, nobody's going to beat her.”

Eventually, Wright’s tenacity was rewarded. In the bottom of the tenth, Vega — the “fighter" — stepped to the plate. She returned from a knee injury suffered in the last regular-season series against N.C. State, and hadn’t taken an at-bat in almost two weeks. Of course, when you’re as talented as Vega, that doesn’t really matter. The ACC Defensive Player of the Year smacked a high screwball from Boston College ace Abby Dunning the other way for a walk-off home run. 

“She loves softball more than anyone on the field, and she'll do whatever it takes to help her team win games.” Young said of her star sophomore’s mindset. “She's continued to rehab and push herself so she can be what we need both defensively and offensively.”

Against the Tigers Friday, Burgess, the sponge, provided the undoubtable moment of the set, with her mad dash to home and picturesque slide in the bottom of the 10th inning. However, it wasn’t that simple. She was initially called out, prompting Young to request a review. After what felt like an eternity, the chief umpire overturned the call, and the Blue Devil faithful exploded as it granted Duke the walk-off victory 

“I'm just super proud of the work she's put in and her desire to be a contributor and have success for this team.” Young extolled. “She's evolved in all areas.”

However, the standout freshman did more than just score the run on a perfect slide to win, an accomplishment that could define a season in itself. In fact, Burgess and the Blue Devils might not even be playing Friday if it wasn’t for her defensive efforts Thursday. With the game tied and a runner in scoring position in the fifth inning, she cleanly fielded a single to left field and delivered a strike to catcher Kelly Torres, who applied the tag to nab the go-ahead runner at the plate.  

Duke will face Florida State in the championship game at 2:30 p.m. Saturday. Young said that the lineup and starting pitcher will depend on the opponent, but she hopes to see her team score “early and often” in their quest to take home the conference trophy.


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