Duke softball wallops South Carolina, 10-1, advances to Super Regional round

The partisan crowd at Duke Softball Stadium stomped on the bleachers, chanting “A-C-C, A-C-C” after center fielder D’Auna Jennings’ RBI single in the top of the seventh inning gave the Blue Devils and eight-run lead over SEC power South Carolina.

Just like the N.C. State men’s basketball team used the phrase “Why not us?” as its rallying cry through the postseason, the Blue Devils relied on theirs: “When, not if.”

South Carolina (36-24) held Duke scoreless in five of Sunday’s seven innings, but the Blue Devils’ ability to make adjustments and stay composed led them to a 10-1 win in the NCAA Durham Regional final Sunday. With its third victory in as many days, ACC champion Duke kept its national championship hopes alive.

The Blue Devils (50-6) will next play in a Super Regional against Missouri after winning its regional. The No. 7 Tigers will host No. 10-seed Duke at 2 p.m. Friday in Columbia.

Duke entered the weekend hoping to make a statement after being left out of the top eight seeds, and left fielder Amaiah Burgess said it accomplished that goal.

“We came to play,” Burgess said. “Duke is here whether the NCAA likes it or not, whether the other teams like it or not. We’re here and we’re ready to beat you.”

Duke’s win Sunday did not come without drama. The team scored eight runs and sent 14 batters to the plate in the seventh inning. Meanwhile, five different plays went to review, including three consecutive fourth-inning reviews.

With Gisele Tapia standing on first after a fourth-inning leadoff base hit, umpires said shortstop Jada Baker grounded into a double play. That was reversed when Baker’s hit was ruled a foul ball.

When Baker reached on an error on the subsequent pitch, the officiating crew reviewed whether Tapia left the bag early. Review indicated she did not.

Finally, second baseman Francesca Frelick hit a two-run single. The Blue Devils coaching staff waved pinch runner Aleyah Terrell home. She was ruled safe on the field, a call that was confirmed with yet another review.

Two additional reviews took place in the seventh. The first base umpire called Jennings out after the center fielder put down a leadoff bunt. A quick review overturned the call on the field.

With her team ahead by five runs, Burgess launched a bases-clearing triple down the right field line. The call of a fair ball on the field was upheld.

Young said the team wasn’t concerned or stressed about the reviews, because it focuses on paying attention to details and doing things well.

“In these big moments, you expect the other opponent to use every opportunity to change momentum with a review or something that could sway it. They were all really confident in their ability to do things right,” Duke head coach Marissa Young said. “That’s what we live for; it’s high pressure moments and doing the little things to win a ballgame.”

The Gamecocks scored their lone run in the bottom half of the inning after an errant throw from Frelick to Tapia, but the host team made up for it.

Pitcher Cassidy Curd started in the circle after two days of rest. She threw 4 1/3 innings, giving up one run while striking out six.

Jala Wright entered the game in the fifth, earning the save. The senior struck out five, including the final out.

“We’re super excited to win another regional at home against quality opponent,” Young said. “I’m super proud of the way this team just came out competed, continued to get better as the game went on, and really separated themselves and showed some dominance.”

The Blue Devils outscored its opponents in the regional, 24-2, including an 8-0 victory in six innings against the Gamecocks on Saturday. Duke’s pitching staff recorded 26 strikeouts and gave up 12 hits.

At the plate, Duke finished 35 of 87 and went 13 of 28 against the Gamecocks in the finals. Jennings and right fielder Claire Davidson contributed eight hits apiece in the regional, totaling 16 hits on 25 at-bats.

Since Duke was not among the top eight seeds, which it felt like it earned, it did not receive automatic Super Regional hosting privileges.

Missouri beat Omaha in the “if” game on Sunday with a walkoff and kept its chance to stay home. If Omaha had won, the Mavericks would’ve traveled to Durham.

“We can’t control the uncontrollables, but we can control how we take the field and how we play our game,” Young said. “We’re just continuing to look [at the] big picture. We want to be that postseason team at the Women’s College World Series. What things do we need to do to be there? They’re really focused on that and having a lot of fun while they’re competing.”