Duke vs. Stanford softball: NCAA Super Regional preview

Duke freshman D’Auna Jennings bunts the ball during the Blue Devils’ NCAA regional game against Charlotte at Duke Softball Stadium in Durham on May 20.

Duke freshman D’Auna Jennings bunts the ball during the Blue Devils’ NCAA regional game against Charlotte at Duke Softball Stadium in Durham on May 20.

Duke athletics

While becoming elite at a rapid pace, Duke’s softball program has taken measured steps toward national prominence.

After winning their first ACC championship in 2021 and capturing their first NCAA regional title in 2022, the Blue Devils are on schedule for their first Women’s College World Series appearance.

Unlike the past two seasons, Duke has a chance to take its next major step on its home field.

On Friday, Duke and Stanford begin their best-of-three NCAA super regional series at Duke Softball Stadium.

Playing just their sixth season in program history, the Blue Devils find themselves among the final 16 teams playing in the NCAA tournament for the second season in a row.

“Ultimately, the goal has been the Women’s College World Series and we feel like we’re just you know, having that experience from last year is going to help prevail,” Duke coach Marissa Young said.

Last May, the Blue Devils traveled west to UCLA for their first super regional appearance before suffering two losses to see their season end. In 2021, Duke dropped a 10-9 game at Georgia in the Athens Regional final.

This time, the Blue Devils (48-10) were awarded the No. 8 national seed, which meant regional and super regional home games as long as they were alive in the tournament.

“Being home,” Duke freshman D’Auna Jennings said, “it just feels good. It’s home-field advantage. It just feels good, to be honest, being on the field with the girls and having the stands like this past week.”

Duke won all three of its Durham Regional games last weekend, including a come-from-behind, 4-2 win over Charlotte on Sunday to advance to the super regional.

In No. 9 seed Stanford (43-13), the Blue Devils play a team they’ve already defeated this season. Back on Feb. 11, in a tournament at Irvine, California, Duke topped the Cardinal, 4-2.

“Being able to play a team like Stanford, who we’ve already played this year, I think is really going to help boost their confidence going into super regionals,” Young said.

Deja Davis, a graduate student batting .380 this season, was part of last season’s team that suffered the two-game sweep at UCLA. A starter as a freshman in 2019 in the program’s second season, she’s been part of Duke’s steady progress.

She’s ready for the Blue Devils to take the important next step.

“We continue to build each year to a new level of play in the postseason,” Davis said. “(It’s) just learning to be relaxed in those types of atmospheres.”

Young anticipates low-scoring games this weekend. Duke’s team earned-run average is 2.02, with Cassidy Curd (18-1, 1.50 ERA) leading the way as an ace in her freshman season.

Stanford, with a 1.56 team ERA, counters with freshman NiJaree Canady (15-1, 0.46 ERA) and senior Alana Vawter (19-8, 1.79 ERA).

The Blue Devils are hopeful their progression to earning home games in this round will make the difference.

“I think especially against a team like Stanford,” Young said, “where it’s gonna come down to the little things: Being able to play at home where you know your field, you know the surface, you know the gaps. All of that really is going to help us. And then obviously the crowd was really rowdy and in our favor last weekend, so we’re looking forward to that energy.”

Steve Wiseman has covered Duke athletics since 2010 for the Durham Herald-Sun and Raleigh News & Observer. In the Associated Press Sports Editors national contest, he’s placed in the top 10 in beat writing in 2019, 2021 and 2022, breaking news in 2019 and explanatory writing in 2018. Previously, Steve worked for The State (Columbia, SC), Herald-Journal (Spartanburg, S.C.), The Sun Herald (Biloxi, Miss.), Charlotte Observer and Hickory (NC) Daily Record covering beats including the NFL’s Carolina Panthers and New Orleans Saints, University of South Carolina athletics and the S.C. General Assembly. He’s won numerous state-level press association awards. Steve graduated from Illinois State University in 1989.

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