Duke softball falls to Missouri in Game 2 of Super Regionals, awaits decisive game Sunday

<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.,—It’s a game of inches.

After winning the first game of the Super Regional Friday, No. 10-seed Duke fell 3-1 to No. 7-seed Missouri in game two, just barely missing out on what would have been a go-ahead grand slam from junior Ana Gold in the sixth. The Blue Devils mustered just two hits all afternoon, and senior starting pitcher Jala Wright struggled for the second consecutive day.

“A really tough heartbreaker today, not the outcome we were looking for. But I feel like we played well, we had a lot of great opportunities up until the sixth inning to come back,” head coach Marissa Young said after the game. “We've got to fight, rebound from this and come back tomorrow.”

Duke (51-7) needed a spark offensively, and a leadoff walk from freshman Amiah Burgess gave the team some kindling. ACC Player of the Year Claire Davidson also drew a base on balls and sophomore Aminah Vega avoided a tag to reach base on an error to load the bases for the Blue Devils.

Gold, who has hit eight long balls this season, just barely missed what would have been a game-changing homer, as her bomb barely hooked foul down the left-field line. Missouri closer Taylor Pannell got the strikeout on the next pitch, and Duke left what could have been a comeback inning with nothing to show.

The Blue Devils went down in order in the seventh, giving Pannell her 15th save of the season — to tie the Division 1 record — and guaranteeing a winner-take-all game Sunday.

Missouri (48-17) finally broke the game’s hitless streak in the fourth, as seniors Alex Honnold and Maddie Gallagher picked up back-to-back singles to create the first scoring opportunity of the afternoon. The Tigers took full advantage, as freshman Abby Hay ripped a single to right, scoring both runners after an errant throw was mishandled by Duke catcher Kelly Torres.

That play was enough for Young to make another call to the bullpen, again turning to sophomore Cassidy Curd. The lefthander got out of the jam, but not before a ground ball scored Hay for the third run of the game.

The Blue Devils had the top of the order up in the bottom of the fourth with a chance to respond, and sophomore D’Auna Jennings got things started with a two-strike single. Jennings got to second when a screamer from Vega ricocheted off Missouri pitcher Laurin Krings’ glove, but Duke could not capitalize on the opportunity.

Senior Francesca Frelick made sure the Blue Devils got on the scoreboard, though, as she hit her second home run of the weekend in the fifth. Ripping a line drive in nearly the same spot as she did Friday, Frelick put it just over the fence in left to breathe some life back into Duke.

“[I] Definitely [don’t have] a home run approach, I'll probably strike out every time if I did. So my goal is to hit the ball hard, honestly, right back at the pitcher. Keeping it simple, really shortening my swing, and the home run will come,” Frelick said of her approach at the plate.

Curd continued her dominance in the circle, allowing just one hit in her 3.2 innings of relief, but her heroics were not enough to overcome Missouri’s earlier lead.

Even after Wright’s uncharacteristically porous performance Friday, Young trusted her ace to start in the circle Saturday. The Tigers nearly picked up right where they left off against Wright, as leadoff hitter Jenna Laird sent a screamer down the left-field line, but Burgess was there to make a diving snag. Two more hard-hit balls were fielded by the Duke defense in the first frame, giving Wright something she never had in game one: a 1-2-3 inning. Another terrific grab, this time from Jennings in center, saved a home run in the second. 

“For me, I feel like it's routine. I catch a lot of balls. That's a testament to my confidence,” Jennings said of her catch. “I think I'm the best center fielder in the nation, period. Obviously, yesterday, there was a little mishap here and there [defensively]. And today was our focus just to really just change that.”

Missouri also flashed some leather in the field early, as Jennings took the second pitch she saw deep to left, only to have it tracked down on the warning track by Claire Cahalan. Cahalan dove for another in the second, matching Burgess’ catch with one of her own in nearly the same spot.

By the end of the third, both sides had plenty of hard contact but no base runners to show for it. Wright, who entered the game with 185 strikeouts in 150 innings, seemed content pitching to contact with an impenetrable defense behind her. On the other side, the Blue Devils couldn’t seem to figure out Krings’ change of speeds, as the Tiger pitcher was frequently able to fool them on the changeup.

Duke’s season now comes down to a winner-take-all game three Sunday. The Blue Devils have only lost the third game of a series once all season.

“It comes down to our belief in ourselves and our ability to adjust quickly and execute the plan,” Young said of what it takes to win Sunday. “I feel like our coaching staff does a really good job of preparing them well. They're super confident.”

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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