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“We came to play”: Duke softball beats South Carolina for 50th win, advances to Super Regional

For the third consecutive year, Duke will compete in the Super Regionals.

On Sunday afternoon, the Blue Devils wrapped up a smooth regional event in Durham, opening the floodgates late against South Carolina en route to a 10-1 win, winning three games over the weekend and being among the final 16 teams remaining. The team won its 50th game this season for the first time in program history.

“We're really pleased to get another home regional win against a quality opponent and I'm really proud of the way this team just came out, was competitive and kept improving as the game went on, really excelled and showed some dominance,” said head coach Marissa Young.

Due to the NCAA Tournament's double-elimination format, Duke (50-6, 20-4 in the ACC) suffered a loss in the regional championship on Sunday after handily defeating Morgan State and South Carolina in its first two contests of the regional .

After starting star player Jala Wright in the first two games, Duke chose dynamic counterpart Cassidy Curd for this game, making her first appearance since slamming the door against Florida State in the ACC Championship. As has often been the case in her young Duke career, Curd's star shined brightest under pressure, as the sophomore was spectacular in 4.1 innings, allowing just three hits and striking out six.

Duke ended the game early in the seventh when South Carolina (36-24) loaded the bases with no outs and simply ran out of stopping power. Ace Alana Vawter appeared to be empty-handed, and things sputtered in the bottom of the last inning when a wild pitch and single made it 4-1. Gisele Tapia added one more to a single and it was all but sealed. When in doubt, Amiah Burgess had a base-clearing three that extended the lead to seven and rubbed salt in the wound.

Aside from the initial threat to start the game, neither team was able to get anything going early on as Curd and Vawter both battled their way through the opposition line-up with relative ease. With the wind blowing at high speed back toward the crowd in the stands, no ball seemed to have enough pop to open the game.

But sometimes, when the ball isn't flying, you find other ways to get the job done. Duke did just that early in the fourth period as the Gamecocks opened the door for the visitors to score their first score of the day. A fumble by Tapia started the party, and an errant throw on a ground ball by Jada Baker gave the Blue Devils two runners in scoring position with no outs.

“They are tough and resilient. I think this time of year you have to expect it, you're dealing with great pitching, you're dealing with great teams, it's not going to be easy,” Young said.

From there, Young's team took advantage as Francesca Frelick, after a close play at the plate, hit a single up the middle that scored two runs, breaking the previous scoreless tie. Any further progress was quickly halted, however, as a double play and a strikeout provided a much-needed end to the inning for South Carolina.

However, the Blue Devils returned the favor in the bottom half of the inning. After a leadoff double to start the inning, Curd made a throwing error to first on a bunt attempt, allowing the first run to cross and the Gamecocks simply replacing the runner at second. From there, however, Curd managed to settle in, getting three straight outs to keep the score at 2-1 after four.

After issuing a walk in the bottom of the fifth, Curd left the ballgame and Wright took his turn again. The Charlotte native immediately came in and took care of business, getting two outs in a row and putting Duke six outs away from another trophy.

The Blue Devils, playing as visitors in this game, had a chance to strike early. A single by Claire Davidson, supported by two walks, set Duke up with the bases loaded and two outs for Tapia in the first, but the graduate student went down swinging to thwart the early chance.

Duke next faces Missouri in a best-of-three series with a chance to advance to the Women's College World Series.

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

Anna Harden

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