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COLLEGE SOFTBALL: Walker's historic season with Duke ends with loss to Alabama at WCWS

Jun. 1—OKLAHOMA CITY — Lillie Walker and Duke softball are leaving Oklahoma almost as quickly as they arrived.

The Inola native and the Blue Devils' historic softball season concluded Friday evening with a narrow 2-1 loss to 14th-seeded Alabama at Devon Park in Oklahoma City in an elimination game at Women's College World Series.

Walker, who did not play in the game, ended her career at Duke with a 20-3 record in 67 appearances with 135.2 innings pitched. The senior left-handed pitcher struck out 86 batters and maintained a cumulative ERA of 1.70 over her three seasons in the rotation.

Despite this season's end, Walker plans to transfer to Baylor for her final year of eligibility while pursuing a master's degree. She is one of eight seniors on the team.

"They didn't have a clue of what they didn't know," Duke coach Marissa Young said of her senior class when they first arrived in Durham. "For a lot of them, their role wasn't what they wanted it to be right from the start. Just their unwavering commitment to our program, the love and desire to grow and learn and get better, to stay committed to the process is really what has enabled them to grow but also them to lead by example and continue to take our program to the next step year after year. I'm just super thankful, especially in today's world, of seeing the transfer portal. We would not be here if it wasn't for the commitment and steadfast commitment from our senior class of staying true to it, continuing to be gritty and elevate themselves."

Duke's 2023 season was record-setting, with the Blue Devils finishing with a 52-9 record and making their first Women's College World Series appearance under Young, who has led the team for just seven seasons.

Sophomore Cassidy Curd started the game against the Crimson Tide, delivering her third complete game of the postseason. Despite her strong performance, Curd took the loss, allowing two runs on four hits over seven innings, closing her season with a 13-4 record.

Alabama (39-19) quickly seized the lead in the opening frame, capitalizing on an error and a double.

Duke responded in the bottom of the second inning when junior Ana Gold hit a solo home run to tie the game. Gold, who had a standout performance with two hits, added another in the fourth inning, though the Blue Devils couldn't capitalize further.

Curd kept the Crimson Tide's offense at bay through the middle innings, preventing any runners from advancing into scoring position until a triple by Alabama's Kali Heivilin in the fifth inning. Duke managed to escape that inning without further damage, though.

However, Alabama's Marlie Giles broke the 1-1 tie with a solo home run in the sixth inning, giving the Crimson Tide a 2-1 lead that the Blue Devils couldn't overcome.

Although the season's end was bittersweet, Walker's contributions to Duke's historic run have left a memorable mark on the program.

As she prepares to join Baylor, she leaves behind a legacy of excellence and dedication that will inspire future Blue Devils.

"I'm sure it won't hit us until we get back home to Durham, step on the field and see the Women's College World Series logo on the outside wall," Young said, looking back on the historic season. "We're really trying to enjoy. It's been a lot of hard work and sacrifices over the last seven years to get us to this point. I'm thankful that I feel like it's paid off in so many ways, not just getting to this point, but again, seeing the growth in the players on and off the field. It gives me a lot of joy. I'm looking forward to the future. It's been a tough road as a new program, but we're here. Just look forward to continuing to build from this."