DURHAM, N.C. (WNCN) — The Duke Blue Devils bats came to life Sunday as they scored more runs than they did their previous three combined but it was one short as they dropped their final contest of the year 10-9 to the Georgia Bulldogs.
“It was great to see them come alive today and compete and while the outcome isn’t what we wanted I don’t walk away with any regrets,” said Duke head softball coach Marissa Young. “There are no would’ve, could’ve should’ve. I felt like my team gave everything they had. They left it all out on the field we just came up short today but I couldn’t ask anything more from them.
After falling behind 1-0 in the first inning the Blue Devils answered in the third inning. Kelly Torres set the table with a leadoff single. Later in the inning, Gisele Tapia hit a rocket that ricocheted off UGA pitcher Britton Rogers and allowed Sarah Goddard to score to tie the game at 1.
Later in the inning, Caroline Jacobsen, who moved from eighth to third in the Blue Devils line-up, singled to left driving in two more runs and giving Duke a 3-1 lead
“They are great competitors and they want to learn from their previous at-bats and their previous failures and figure out what they need to do to get better,” said Young. “To be prepared for the next game and that next moment.”
The next moment came in the next inning.
A three-run home run by Sara Mosley gave UGA the one-run lead. Looking for a change, Young pulled starting pitcher Peyton St. George and put in Saturday night’s workhorse Shelby Walters but not before giving her something to think about.
“When she came out I told her she had a few minutes to regroup but she needed to pull it together because we were going to need her again,” said Young. “Shelby went through 12 innings yesterday and I knew that her arm wasn’t going to go the distance so it was more of a let’s put Shelby and give them a change of pace but you’ve got to come back and finish this thing.”
Walters got them out of the inning. St. George would re-enter and keep it close.
In the fourth inning, Duke went back to work at the plate. With runners on first and second, Kyla Morris dropped one down the line in left. Kristina Foreman was running all the way and, with a slide that would make Lou Brock proud, avoided the tag at home to tie the game at 4.
Two batters later Tapia (2-4, 4 RBI) continued her tear, squaring up a 1-2 offering and just missing a grand slam by inches. It cleared the bases and put Duke on top 7-4.
A homer by Foreman (2-4, 4 RBI) made it 9-6 Duke in the fifth inning.
“We talk so much about the mental game and how you can play the game between your ears and it’s tough to explain that until you’re in it. The post-season does something different to you and now that we have been here and experienced it, I know we’re going to come out better as team because of it,” said Young. “Our kids learned a lot, but most of all they just competed their butts off and there is no quit in them.”
The lead wasn’t safe from UGA. In the fifth inning Syndey Chambley’s solo home run cut Dukes lead to two. Later in the inning, Sydney Kuma’s 2 RBI single tied the game and in the sixth inning, Chambley’s RBI single made it 10-9.
The Blue Devils hung tough. In the seventh inning with a runner on second, Sydney Bolan hit one in to the gap in right but it was just within a few inches reach of the Georgia center fielder.
“I even said in that last inning you know that ball to centerfield a few more feet to the left and it’s a different ballgame,” said Young. “Kyra Morris also came alive for us in this tournament and really glad to see her and her season on a high note.”
It’s not the way they wanted to end it but it was not a bad season. The Blue Devils can look back on their first ACC Championship, first NCAA appearance and a pair of wins. All of it is a great learning and teaching moments to build on for next year.
“You have to learn to play here to win here and like I said there is nothing like the postseason as much as you try to prepare for it, it is a different stage,” said Young. “The nerves and your mindset changes a little bit and it’s just important to get them in the frame of mind that they have to keep doing what they’ve been doing all season.”