ATHENS, Ga. (WNCN) — The No. 13-seeded Duke softball team racked up a victory in their first NCAA postseason appearance beating UNC Greensboro 2-0 in the Athens Regional on Friday afternoon at Jack Turner Stadium.
“I’m really proud of the way they were able to fight through and pull off our first regional win,” said Blue Devils head coach Marissa Young.
Duke wasted little time playing small ball and manufacturing a run in the first inning. Junior Deja Davis ripped the second pitch she saw into right field to set the table. She then promptly stole second. Sophomore Gisele Tapia dropped down a bunt that was promptly fired into right field by UNCG’s catcher. Tapia wound up on second and Davis, running on contact, never broke stride scoring from second to give the Blue Devils the 1-0 lead.
“Deja is amazing in the lead off spot she really is,” said junior pitcher Shelby Walters. “Her doing that the first at bat it really I think just set the tone for the game because we were just like we can do this.”
“This is a great ballpark to hit the long ball but I think that’s what we do well is find ways to score runs in different ways and it takes the pressure off of us,” said head coach Marissa Young. “That we don’t always have to come up with that extra base hit or that long ball to be able to score we can move people around and use our speed as well.”
In the second the Blue Devils didn’t bother with small ball and speed they went with power. Caroline Jacobsen muscled up on an 0-1 offering and hit it off the scoreboard doubling the lead. It was all they needed but it was also all UNCG pitcher Morgan Scott would give up as she settled in and shut down the Duke offense the rest of the way.
“We know she was a good pitcher. She was rested and was going to be on top of her game. We love scoring first and continuing to apply pressure you know then it just becomes a chess match,” said coach Young. “She adjusts her game plan and we got to figure things out and adjust ours. I thought we chased some pitches and took some pitches we should’ve hit but I think that’s just a product of nerves in that first game.”
Junior Shelby Walters notched her 18th win in her five-inning appearance. Walters retired the first eight Spartan batters before UNC Greensboro saw its first two base runners on back-to-back singles in the third, but the runners were stranded in scoring position on a groundout. UNC Greensboro had two on in the fourth on a walk and one hit, but Walters got out of the jam with her third strikeout of the game.
“My defense hasn’t let me down all season so I was really relying on them and we were just all talking in those innings you know like we got each other,” said Walters. “I got a good pitch right here, gonna roll a ground ball, you guys just make a play.”
“We’ve been in those types of situations a lot this year especially down the stretch through the ACC tournament and our team has shown they are just a pitch away or play away from getting out of a situation,” said coach Young. “Definitely calm and confident and trying to be the calm in the storm for my team.”
Senior Peyton St. George came on and shut out UNCG the rest of the way to secure Duke’s first NCAA program win with two hitless frames to record her fifth save this year.
“I really think it helped yesterday coming out and practicing,” said Walters. “Coach was telling us to try and envision every seat is full and you’re out there and it’s the bottom of the seventh bases-loaded sort of thing just imagine the most stressful situation you could be in so every other situation seems like a walk in the park.”
The Blue Devils’ aggressive style of play has served them well thus far. It’s a formula that works and last checked they aren’t looking to change anything anytime soon.
“You can’t try to change your philosophy or force your kids to do something they haven’t done all year that’s how we got here,” said coach Young. “Each game it seems like somebody in the lineup steps up and has an exceptional day and today it was Gisele Tapia and Caroline Jacobson.”
Duke returns to action tomorrow and will play Georgia at 12 p.m.