Duke softball defeats Morgan State and South Carolina, advances to NCAA Regional Final

Jala Wright pitched in both regional games for Duke.
Jala Wright pitched in both regional games for Duke.

Despite Durham’s cloudy weather, it was all sunshine for the Blue Devils, as they earned their way back to the NCAA Regional Final. 

“This team continues to show how resilient they are and how they’re going to fight until the end,” Duke head coach Marissa Young told GoDuke.

Resiliency has been a hallmark of Team 7. They played two 10-inning games in the ACC tournament, showcasing remarkable stamina and drive. Once again, in their first two regional games against Morgan State and South Carolina, the Blue Devils (49-6, 20-4 in the ACC) showed how they have mastered the art of the long game. 

“It took us a little bit longer than we wanted to get started,” Young said after the Morgan State game. “Obviously, we broke things open late.” 

Indeed, the first four innings of the opening round game against Morgan State (35-19, 18-3) went scoreless for both teams, but as the Blue Devils so often do, once they turned on the heat, they never backed down. 

The ever reliable graduate student Gisele Tapia broke the scoreless streak for Duke in the bottom of the fifth inning to finally put a run on the board. 

“It felt awesome,” Tapia told GoDuke. “I think I usually go up there with a kind of team-oriented mindset and being able to do it for my team was really something special.”

With a score on the board, Tapia’s teammates followed her offensive lead. Sophomore D’Auna Jennings struck an infield single before scoring on ACC Player of the Year Claire Davidson’s home run that flew over the right-field fence. 

By the end of the fifth, Duke would be up 4-0, thanks to sophomore Aminah Vega’s solo home run. 

Morgan State scored one run off of sophomore Lillie Walker who pitched two innings of relief after senior Jala Wright tossed 5 scoreless innings, but that would not be enough to stop the Blue Devils who sealed their victory with another pair of runs to defeat the Bears 6-1. 

With their win against Morgan State, Duke secured its 48th win and tied the program record for wins in a single season. The next day against South Carolina (35-24, 8-16), the team would break that record.

Saturday afternoon’s matchup got off to a similar scoreless start for the first two innings with South Carolina freshman pitcher Sage Mardjetko cooling off Duke’s usually hot bats. 

In the bottom of the third inning, though, it was Jennings who lit the offensive fire for Duke, scoring her first career home run to give the Blue Devils the lead. With Jennings’ homer, every batter in Duke’s starting lineup has scored at least one home run on the season. 

Courtesy of Tapia’s 150th career RBI, a two-run single, Duke put two more runs up on the scoreboard to extend its lead on top of the Gamecocks in the fifth inning. The offensive fire that opponents have come to expect of the Blue Devils showed no signs of burning out. With a pitching change for the Gamecocks, Duke’s batters now faced off against Bailey Betenbaugh in the bottom of the sixth. The change in pitcher did nothing to change Duke’s offensive momentum. Betenbaugh would surrender five runs off of four hits to the Blue Devils in the sixth inning, ending the game early for South Carolina as Duke earned the 8-0 run-rule victory.   

“We didn’t settle and continued to score more runs and put the game out of reach,” Young told GoDuke of her team’s offensive dominance. 

It was not only an offensive masterclass in Durham though. Wright showed off her pitching prowess and proved exactly why she was named ACC Pitcher of the Year to seal the victory for the Blue Devils, shutting out South Carolina and only surrendering two hits in the game as she refused to let the Gamecocks develop anything resembling an offensive rhythm. 

“I also had a chip on my shoulder. This is kinda like a hometown game for me. I know a lot of the girls on the South Carolina team,” Wright said. “So that added a extra motivation.”  

Despite what looked to be a slow start, Duke showed that patience is key, waiting for every aspect of its game plan to play out perfectly. With the win, the Blue Devils move on to their fourth straight Regional Final where they will face off against one of Morgan State, South Carolina or Utah.

“We’re focused on the end goal which is getting to the Women's College World Series,” Young said. “And we know we just have to keep taking one game at a time in front of us.” 


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