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ND Softball

Duke’s Gold shines brighter to stun Irish softball

| Monday, March 6, 2023

A weekend that opened with excitement ended in heartbreak for Notre Dame softball. Facing No. 12 Duke in Durham, North Carolina, the Irish won their inaugural ACC game of 2023 on Friday. However, the Blue Devils took the last two games on the shoulders of three home runs from sophomore infielder Ana Gold. Her last sent everybody home, as Duke stole a series victory from Notre Dame’s grasp.

Game one: Notre Dame 5, Duke 4

The Irish wasted no time setting the tone in Friday’s game. In the first inning, junior infielder Karina Gaskins started the scoring with a two-out RBI single to right-center field. Then, graduate infielder Lexi Orozco destroyed a softball. With the wind at her back, she sent it high over the left field foul pole for a two-run home run. Just like that, Notre Dame led 3-0 on the transfer’s fourth blast of the year.

Duke responded quickly against graduate starting pitcher Payton Tidd. After two of the first three reached in the first, Kelly Torres pulled a single just inside the third base bag to score one. In the next inning, Deja Davis blooped a double into center to make it 3-2 after the leadoff hitter reached on a strikeout and throwing error.

Brilliant base running from sophomore outfielder Emily Tran on a fielder’s choice restored ND’s two-run lead in the fourth. However, the Blue Devils answered again after loading the bases with nobody out. In the fifth, Notre Dame had a chance to put Duke away with the bags packed and no outs. But like Tidd, Jala Wright handled the situation well, striking out three in a row and conceding just one run. 

The tug of war continued into the sixth, as Kairi Rodriguez doubled down the left field line to make it 5-4. With Duke down to its final three outs and Tidd’s pitch count sitting at 121, head coach Deanna Gumpf called upon freshman pitcher Micaela Kastor to end it. She did, setting the Blue Devils down in order to secure Notre Dame’s series-opening win. Tidd improved her record to 6-2 with a six-inning, two-earned run effort. On the other side, Claire Davidson took the loss, allowing four earned runs in less than four frames.

Game two: Notre Dame 2, Duke 6

After leading wire-to-wire on Friday, Notre Dame played from behind for all of Saturday. Sophomore Shannon Becker started in the Irish circle, and Duke continued her bumpy start to the year. In the first, Gisele Tapia brought in the first run on a slicing triple that Leea Hanks couldn’t reach. Then, the Ana Gold show began. Last year’s All-ACC Third-Teamer extended Duke’s lead in the second by yanking a two-run homer to left. An inning later, she repeated the effort, launching a two-run skyscraper to center for a 5-0 lead. 

Notre Dame got on the board with a single up the middle from senior infielder Joley Mitchell in the fourth. Two frames later, the Irish played some long ball of their own. Leading off the sixth, Gaskins powered a ball over the fence in right-center, cutting the deficit down to three. The Blue Devils took a major insurance run back in the sixth, expanding its lead back to 6-2. The Irish put two runners on in the seventh, but Jala Wright caught sophomore infielder Jane Kronenberger looking to even the series. 

Freshman pitcher Cassidy Curd moved to 6-0, throwing five innings of two-run ball. Once again, Kastor was impressive out of the Irish bullpen. She tossed 3.1 innings, allowing one run and needing only 38 pitches.

Game three: Notre Dame 3, Duke 4

Sunday’s rubber match shaped up as an old-fashioned battle between two conference foes. Payton Tidd and Jala Wright squared off in the circle and absolutely shined. Through six innings, the day’s only run belonged to Duke. It came on a third-inning home run from Sarah Goddard that was just long enough to left field. Meanwhile, Notre Dame went hitless through five innings, allowing the Blue Devils to maintain their 1-0 advantage.

Wright exited the game prior to the seventh, and the Irish took full advantage. With one out, two Notre Dame hitters reached on an error and a single. That brought Wright back into the game to face Joley Mitchell. Though she came into the afternoon with a batting average below .200, Mitchell put a beautiful swing on Wright’s two-strike offering. The ball soared over the fence in left field, turning the game upside down and giving Notre Dame a 3-1 lead. 

Micaela Kastor closed out Friday’s win, but Gumpf decided to stick with Tidd for Sunday’s final three outs. Tidd never got one. After allowing a single and four-pitch walk, she remained in the game to face Ana Gold, who had taken her deep twice on Saturday. Representing the game-winning run, Gold did the unthinkable. With one swing of the bat, she won the series with a three-run shot to right-center field – a crushing conclusion to a competitive series for Notre Dame.

ACC play rolls on for the Irish, who will visit NC State next weekend. The Friday-Saturday-Sunday series will have first pitch times of 6 p.m., 2:00 p.m. and noon.

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