Duke softball overpowered by Oklahoma in Game 1 of Women's College World Series

<p>Francesca Frelick hit another home run this postseason. </p>

Francesca Frelick hit another home run this postseason.

OKLAHOMA CITY—Head coach Marissa Young and her Duke softball program worked for seven long years to reach the pinnacle of the sport. Their reward? Taking on the three-time defending champion Oklahoma Sooners in their home state.

The Blue Devils jumped out to an early lead in their first Women’s College World Series game in program history, but the favorites ultimately prevailed, as Oklahoma mashed three two-run homers en route to a 9-1 victory in the opening round of play. Sophomore Cassidy Curd started in the circle for the Blue Devils but turned the ball over at the first sign of danger to star pitcher Jala Wright, who never quite settled into her relief role and lost control of the contest for Duke.

“Obviously a tough game,” Young said. “Not the outcome we were looking for. But I think there's a lot of positive things we can pull from this.”

Down 1-0, the Sooners went to work in the bottom of the third. Leadoff hitter Jayda Coleman knocked a single up the middle, prompting Young to pull Curd in favor of Wright, the newly-minted first-team All-American. The move initially seemed like the right call as the senior hurler worked two punchouts, but Oklahoma catcher Kinzie Hansen gave the Sooners the lead with a two-run blast over the wall in left.

Wright wasn’t able to limit the damage there, as a walk and homer off the bat of Alynah Torres — another two-out, two-run shot to the first row of the left-field bleachers — gave Oklahoma a 4-1 lead.

Both sides went quietly in the opening frame, but any first-time jitters that may have existed for Duke were quickly shaken. Despite homering only five times in the regular season, senior Francesca Frelick blasted two over the wall in the Blue Devils’ Super Regional series in Columbia, Mo. In her first at-bat in Oklahoma City, Frelick did it again.

“I was really trying to keep it simple, first at-bat of the game, trying to get the butterflies out,” Frelick said. “I wasn't trying to hit a homerun, I was just looking for a good pitch to hit right back up the middle.”

“We’ve called her May Frelick for a couple of years now, she just finds her groove come May and postseason when we need her the most,” Young added. “But it's really a testament to the hard work that she puts in all season long to be ready for these big moments.”

Leading off the second inning, the Lexington, Mass., product roped a 3-1 pitch down the left-field line, and though it didn’t initially seem to have enough height, the ball crept over the blue wall to give Duke an early 1-0 advantage. The Blue Devils threatened to add on with two more baserunners in the inning, but couldn’t push any more across.

After Oklahoma’s strong third inning, Duke fought to get back into it in the fourth. A walk, a fielder's choice, a hit-by-pitch and another walk loaded the bases with two outs, forcing the Sooners to go to the pen. Gisele Tapia stepped to the plate for Blue Devils and flared a pitch to shallow left-center field, but just when it was looking to drop and score multiple runs, Coleman charged in from center and laid out to make an incredible grab. The web gem ended the rally and preserved the Sooners’ three-run advantage.

“A few inches from that ball dropping in and scoring runs, but that's what great teams do,” Young said. “They show up and make the big plays. She's done that time and time again for them.”

Already holding a 4-1 lead, Oklahoma added on in the bottom half. A leadoff single set the table for Cydney Sanders, who golfed a two-run homer into the Devon Park stands to put the Sooners ahead by five. Wright’s day in the circle ended here, as the Charlotte native — who entered the contest seventh in the nation in ERA at 1.28 — pitched just one full inning and gave up five runs.

Lillie Walker entered in her place, giving up one more by way of an RBI-single from Hansen. By the time the fourth inning came to a close, Oklahoma had tallied three runs and amassed a 7-1 lead.

A two-RBI single for the Sooners in the bottom of the sixth inning enacted the eight-run mercy-rule, ending the game a frame early.

“Have you watched the show ‘Ted Lasso’?” catcher Kelly Torres asked in the postgame press conference, referencing the viral TV series. “Gotta have the goldfish mentality. It’s over with, can’t change the past, all we can do is focus on the next game.”

Looking to respond to Frelick’s ice-breaking second-inning blast, Oklahoma led off the home half of the frame with a single, courtesy of Alyssa Brito. Left fielder Kasidi Pickering then lined a ball to the right-center gap that looked like it may reach the wall and score Brito, but speedy center fielder D’Auna Jennings made an impressive play to track the ball down and hold Brito up at third.

The under-the-radar effort proved crucial, as Curd quickly induced a ground ball that allowed shortstop Jada Baker to throw home and catch Brito and preserve Duke’s lead, for the time being. 

“We've got to have a short-term memory and take from today so that we can come back tomorrow and take on our next opponent,” Young said.

The Blue Devils head to the loser’s bracket to face Alabama Friday at 7 p.m. in an elimination game.


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