Duke softball survives Georgia Tech rally late, uses blitz to advance to ACC semi-finals

In the fourth year of Duke softball’s existence in 2021, the program took the ACC Championship title. At five, the Blue Devils got one step closer to fighting their way to the other.

Georgia Tech threatened a late comeback Thursday against Duke in the ACC quarterfinals at Vartabedian Field in Pittsburgh, but the Blue Devil’s attack easily responded to take the 9-6 win despite some hiccups in the later tires.

Gala Wright made her post-season debut as pitcher Duke and kept the Yellow Jacket offense with her wicked changes, scoring five rounds of two-ball runs. The Blue Devil bats kept a strong connection, tabling Georgia Tech’s pro line-up for twelve hits, four of which were home runs.

“Postseason, those games are tight and it’s back and forth. Tough teams just have the kind of weather that swings back and forth and maintains momentum,” coach Marissa Young said of the team’s tenacity. “We swing bats well. It was only a matter of time before we could open things up. Georgia Tech tried to respond again and we just had to figure out how to get out and stop their momentum.”

Three home runs in the sixth inning put the game in the pocket of the Blue Devils. While this may sound like a familiar trajectory for this power-packed squad, some unusual suspects have been involved in the long ball movement.

After right-hander Caroline Jacobsen pummeled a hard kick in the third baseline, catcher Francesca Frelick and hitter Deja Davis slipped to a 0-2 tie in her third and second home runs of the season, respectively.

Their out-of-park shots joined by a 0-1 bombshell from the most regular suspects on short-stroke Jameson Cavill—the team’s home run leader—to give Duke a 9-3 lead in seventh.

“We talk a lot about continuing to chase the pitches in the area, and some of our kids are really good with two-strokes and being two-stroke hitters,” Young said of how the team approaches hits when counting. “So they don’t change the way they swing or try to do too much in those situations.”

Duke Bates also threw the ball past Georgia Tech started by Chandler Dennis, whose rookies were entering the zone high and fast, but the home plate referee’s strike zone appeared to be lower. When she pulled her pitches down, Duke took advantage.

In the first half, two hard drives from Cavill’s bats and designated player Gisele Tapia were reported by Georgia Tech, but the Blue Devils pierced one measuring tape from first baseman Rachel Crabtree.

Christina Foreman climbed onto the board, wearing a plastic face mask over her nose and forehead to protect her from injury. The All-ACC Second Team’s selection wouldn’t let the mask get the best of it, as Georgia Tech fans were silenced when they called in at 0-1 and sent him through the left field fence in Duke’s first round of the game.

In the game, Dennis allowed nine fly balls or lead a line, and Wright allowed only one, a fly that was tracked down by left-footed player Kayla Morris. While hard hitting streaks weren’t an issue for Wright, she and Duke’s Gloves faced some adversity in the fifth.

To open the fifth, Georgia Tech left-hander Auburn Dupree slipped a straight kick out of Duke’s third range Anna Gold, veering off her gauntlet and out of range of other hackers.

Walking, two wild pitches and a pitch later, both runners crossed the house to trim Georgia Tech’s deficit to 4-2. Wright didn’t lose faith in her change, took to the strike zone to finish the game and debuted in the post-season with a penalty kick and the two-round lead remains intact.

“She was really strong and solid for us. That’s what we wanted, getting her out there and getting the post-season experience because we’re going to need her for a long time,” Young said of Wright’s performance. “Gala continues to improve as the season goes on, and that’s what we need from her to be successful in the post-season.”

Duke bowlers Claire Davidson and Peyton St George took the helm in rounds 6 and 7 and had some issues with the long ball that wasn’t present in the previous innings. Davidson gave up her first run in sixth to second, and St. George allowed two in the seventh to bolster hopes of a yellow jackets comeback.

The Blue Devil’s attack had made the gap so wide that the lead wasn’t in serious danger, but it would be critical for these members to recover as the ACC Championship continued.

The second-seeded, third-seeded Duke will face 3-seeded Florida in the rematch of last year’s semifinals at 3:30 p.m. Friday.

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