Duke softball wins on 10th-inning walkoff homer; Wright sets program strikeout record

Duke’s Jala Wright throws a pitch during the fourth inning of the Blue Devils’ 6-0 win over Longwood on Wednesday, April 24, 2024, in Durham, N.C.

Duke nearly swept the ACC postseason awards, earning four, and it showed why in Thursday’s 2-0, 10-inning win over Boston College at the ACC Tournament at Duke Softball Stadium.

The No. 1 seeded Blue Devils faced a scrappy No. 9 seed Boston College team, but it was a matter of when — not if — the top seed would respond.

Pitcher of the Year Jala Wright threw an extra-innings shutout, including a career-high and school record 17 strikeouts.

Player of the Year Claire Davidson hit a double to start the 10th inning, then Aminah Vega followed with a walk-off home run to center field.

Vega said she didn’t think Boston College (30-24) would give Davidson — one of the nation’s best home run hitters — a good pitch to hit, so she was prepared to make a big play.

“We’re gonna bet on us every time. We’re that team. We’re the best team,” said Vega, ACC Defensive Player of the Year. “I think just trusting that and knowing that it’s going to happen is going to be our best bet.”

Ranked No. 5 nationally, the Blue Devils (45-6) advance to Friday’s semifinals to play either No. 4 seed Virginia or No. 5 seed Clemson.

Duke head coach Marissa Young said her team started slow, noting its week off for finals and the nerves associated with playing in a conference championship.

Boston College loaded the bases in the top of the first, recording a pair of hits and drawing a walk. The senior admitted she felt a bit nervous, but Wright threw her first strikeout to retire the side unscathed.

“She feels like she still has something to prove,” Young said. “I just told her, ‘You’ve already accomplished what you want to accomplish. Just relax and go out and have fun. Enjoy the opportunity to throw.’”

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Wright, and the Duke defense, responded in the subsequent innings. It finished with five three up, three down innings.

Freshman Amiah Burgess made a couple of clutch plays to keep her team in it, as well. Burgess, a member of the all-ACC freshman team and all-ACC third team, made a long throw to catcher Kelly Torres to cut down a BC runner at the plate in the fifth. She grabbed a line drive to sit down the leadoff batter in the next frame.

The Blue Devils allowed five hits and three walks, but every runner was left stranded.

“I knew this team was gonna have my back as long as I just kept pumping strikes,” Wright said. “I knew they were gonna get outs, and I knew the bomb was gonna come.”

Wright’s 10 innings pitched are the second-highest in a game in Duke softball’s seven-season history.

“To face the lineup over and over is really difficult; to figure out what adjustments they’re going to make and play that chess match,” Young said. “But, she just had a really good command and a lot of confidence. Obviously our defense played well behind her.”

Duke would’ve liked to make some of its adjustments sooner — three of its 1-2-3 innings came in in the final four frames — since playing 10 innings with its next game in less than 24 hours isn’t ideal.

Still, the team is pleased with its ability to pull off tough wins like it did. It can’t win the championship or reach the Women’s College World Series without getting past a few tests.

“In our team room, we have a roadmap to the College World Series. At the end, it’s the College World Series and before, it (says) ‘Conquer adversity,’” Vega said. “I think it’s a testament of how good we are. Being able to conquer today and bring us to the next game is going to be everything.”