LUCKY NUMBER 7: Duke softball wins Super Regional in 9 innings, advances to first World Series in program history

<p>D'Auna Jennings hit the go-ahead home run in the ninth inning.</p>

D'Auna Jennings hit the go-ahead home run in the ninth inning.

COLUMBIA, Mo.,— For the first time ever, the Blue Devils are heading to Oklahoma City.

In a winner-take-all, program-defining game, No. 10-seed Duke won a 4-3 war of attrition against No. 7-seed Missouri. The Blue Devils tallied just three hits in the first eight innings, but a four-run ninth inning led by a home run from sophomore D’Auna Jennings was enough to seal the victory. Duke will now advance to its first Women’s College World Series in program history.

“This is what postseason softball is all about, just a dog fight,” head coach Marissa Young said after the game. “Kudos to Mizzou, I mean just so much fight all weekend and great competitors in their program. But [I’m] super proud of our girls for continuing to fight with their backs against the wall. [Sophomore] Cassidy Curd came out and threw a heck of a gem. I knew it was just a matter of time before our offense was able to score runs for her.”

The ninth inning seemed destined to be the final frame, as both sides had the top of their orders due up. It didn’t take Jennings long to make good on that prediction, as she took a 1-2 pitch deep down the right-field line. 4,021 fans held their breath, and about 50 jumped in celebration moments later as the ball cleared the fence. 

The Blue Devils (52-7) weren’t done there, though, as they made sure to give sophomore Cassidy Curd some insurance. First, freshman Amiah Burgess ripped a triple to the corner in right to score senior Francesca Frelick. Ana Gold followed her up with a double to bring home another and force Missouri head coach Larissa Anderson to make her second pitching change of the inning. Then it was senior catcher Kelly Torres, who blooped one behind first base to score Duke’s fourth run of the inning.

Curd, who had stymied the Tigers (48-18) all day long, entered the game with an ocean of breathing room. However, each of Missouri’s first two batters reached base, forcing a call to the bullpen from Young.

Senior Lillie Walker, who had not pitched in either of the previous two games of the Super Regional, entered the game looking to close things out. However, freshman Abby Hay timed her up for a three-run homer to bring the Tigers back within one and bring the entire crowd to its feet.

Young then made the decision to put the ball back in the hands of her ace, as Curd reentered the game, this time one out away from closing things out. After giving up another single, the Port St. Lucie, Fla., native finally retired the final out.

“The mentality in this game is the game is not over till it's over,” Curd said. “I have unwavering confidence in my defense and my offense. I know that with them on the field, we can do anything.”

The game went into extra innings knotted at a scoreless tie, but it very nearly ended in the bottom of the seventh, as Missouri slugger Julia Crenshaw took a ball way deep, but foul. The junior singled up the middle on the following pitch, but Curd picked up her seventh strikeout of the game to end the inning.

After the first eight full frames, the atmosphere felt eerily similar to game two. Both teams had picked up solid contact, but neither had anything to show for it. Whether it was unlucky bounces, elimination-game jitters or simply strong defense, the scoreboard refused to budge from its 0-0 stalemate. 

Both pitchers primarily utilized riseballs, causing hitters to consistently sky the ball for easy outs. And while both Duke and Missouri feature plenty of power, the ball continued to stay within the field of play.

“The pressure is the pressure, it's a part of the game,” Jennings said. “It's just important to have that confidence. We kept telling each other, do not try to do too much, keep things simple. At some point the balls are gonna fall.”

The Blue Devils got their first scoring chance early, as a screamer up the middle from senior Claire Davidson was mishandled by Tiger shortstop Jenna Laird for a single. A line drive to left-center from sophomore Aminah Vega put runners on the corners for Super Regional star Frelick. 

The senior hit a home run in each of the first two games of the series, and she got a hold of a 2-1 pitch again Sunday. However, the ball sailed foul, and Frelick popped up to Laird a few pitches later. Freshman Amiah Burgess faced a similar fate, grounding out to Krings, and Duke exited the first without capitalizing on the opportunity.

Curd faced her first true scoring threat in the bottom of the third, as sophomore Kayley Lenger led off with a single and advanced into scoring position after a bunt. However, the southpaw worked her way out of the inning handily, employing her trademark riseball to get two pop ups.

After sending out nearly identical lineups in the first two games of the Super Regional, Young opted to make a few key changes Sunday. First and foremost, she turned to Curd in the circle instead of senior Jala Wright after Wright struggled in each of her two starts against Missouri. Additionally, Frelick moved up in the order from eighth to fourth because of her big weekend.

Duke will now face No. 2-seed Oklahoma in the first game of the Women’s College World Series. The two teams met way back in February to open of the season, which the Sooners won 3-0.

“I think [the win] says a lot about just our consistency of excellence in our program. We want to be seen as a powerhouse softball program,”  Young said. “I'm just really proud of the way that the girls continue every year to take us to the next level.”

Dom Fenoglio | Sports Managing Editor

Dom Fenoglio is a Trinity junior and a sports managing editor of The Chronicle's 120th volume.


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