The NC State softball team put up a fight in its regular season finale against the No. 21 Duke Blue Devils, but fell short in a 12-7 loss. The Pack battled back from an early 5-0 deficit but could not hold onto a 7-6 lead.
The back-and-forth affair began with Duke (39-10, 26-10) on the front foot, as the Blue Devils put up a crooked five runs on the Pack (25-24, 15-22) in the second inning. Freshman right-handed pitcher Brooklyn Lucero (1.1 IP, 5 ER, 4 H) surrendered a leadoff homer to Kristina Foreman to start the second inning and it was all downhill for her from there.
With one out and the bases loaded, Lucero gave up an RBI single followed by an fielder’s choice that failed to get an out before the righty plunked a batter to drive in another run for Duke. That last play signaled the end of Lucero’s day, as head coach Jennifer Patrick-Swift called redshirt sophomore right-hander Sydney Nester (4.1 IP, 3 H, ER, 4 K) in from the bullpen
“We can’t be missing multiple pitches, multiple at bats in a row,” Patrick-Swift said. “When you don’t hit your spot, the ball has a tendency to go a long way.”
Nester threw a wild pitch that allowed the runner to score from third, but she was eventually able to stop the bleeding with a fielder’s choice resulting in a force out at home plate and a flyout to right to end the frame.
The Pack answered immediately with a two-run homer from redshirt senior center fielder Angie Rizzi (1-5, HR, 2 RBI) in the bottom of the second, diminishing the Blue Devils’ lead to 5-2. That lead shrank again in the bottom of the third when redshirt junior third baseman Logan Morris (2-3, HR, 2 RBI) hit a two-run bomb to make it 5-4. The contributions from seniors like Rizzi have not gone unappreciated by Patrick-Swift and her staff.
“We’re super proud of them and grateful for all that they’ve given to the program in the last three years, especially since we’ve been here,” Patrick-Swift said. “They’ve always done all that we could ask of them.”
Nester held the Blue Devils in check until the fifth inning, but a one-out fielder’s choice allowed a runner to score from third base to make it 6-4 in favor of Duke. This lead was short-lived however, as graduate student shortstop Randi Farricker (1-2, HR, 2 RBI) clocked a two-run homer in the bottom of the fifth to even the score at six runs apiece.
“Offensively, I thought we picked it up prior to the weekend but still fell short,” Patrick-Swift said. “When we hit home runs, we win games but the secondary part to that is we need our pitchers and defense to step up.”
After Farricker’s dinger, NC State continued its attack and took a 7-6 lead. With both baserunners in scoring position, redshirt sophomore second baseman April Visser (0-2, RBI) laid down a bunt that scored redshirt junior left fielder Sam Russ (1-2) from third, giving the Pack the lead.
Duke refused to fall that easily, however, responding with a four-run sixth inning fueled by a go-ahead three-run shot to put the Blue Devils up 10-7. This prompted Patrick-Swift to make another pitching change, bringing freshman left-handed pitcher Estelle Czech (1.1 IP, 2 ER) into the ballgame.
Czech secured the third out of the sixth to keep the Wolfpack in the game, but the southpaw faltered in the seventh as Duke sealed the deal. A two-run triple down the right field line extended Duke’s lead to 12-7. The Pack could not bridge that gap in the bottom half of the inning, leaving two runners on base when the game ended. State now turns its sights to the ACC Championship.
“Our thing is going to be, it’s never the best team that comes out there and wins a game, it’s the team that plays the best that day,” Patrick-Swift said. “To me everyone’s record is 0-0, batting averages are zero, eras are zero. Our goal is to play the best ball on the field that day, no matter who’s in the other dugout.”
The Pack will travel to Louisville, Kentucky for the ACC Championship, which takes place May 12-15. The Wolfpack’s opening game of the tournament will be against UNC-Chapel Hill on May 12 at 3:30 p.m. The championship will be aired on ESPN2 at noon on May 15, with all other games appearing on the ACC Network.