By Molly Keshin
TEMPE, Ariz. — The young Duke softball program, in only its fifth year, experienced a lot of firsts last season: its first ACC Championship victory, first NCAA tournament appearance and first All-American in senior infielder Deja Davis.
However, with their 4-0 victory over the No. 5-ranked Oklahoma State Cowgirls Friday afternoon at Arizona State’s Kajikawa Classic, the Blue Devils accomplished their first major “third” in their history, as the budding program has now defeated a top-five opponent in early-season tournaments in three straight seasons (No. 5 LSU in 2021, No. 4 Texas in 2020).
With fifth-year senior and reigning ACC Tournament MVP Peyton St. George making her first start of the 2022 season in the circle, the No. 20 Blue Devils held the Cowgirls to just three hits, leaving four runners stranded. St. George racked up nine strikeouts in the seven-inning shutout and went on a stretch retiring 11 straight Cowgirl batters in a row.
“I feel like I was trying not to make the moment too big, first-day jitters,” St. George said in a postgame teammate-to-teammate interview with senior outfielder Kyla Morris on the Duke Twitter account. “But I got through the toughest part, which is the first inning, and then I was able to calm down. My cushion just got bigger and bigger every time because of the run support.”
Morris helped to lock down the victory for the Blue Devils with multiple solid catches in left field, including the stealthy robbery of Oklahoma State fifth-year Hayley Busby’s potential two-run home run that would have given the Cowgirls the lead in the top of the third. As Oklahoma State fans rose to their feet with arms in the air, Morris slyly flipped her glove back over the maroon fence of Farrington Stadium to reveal the ball in her glove, instantly quieting the usually rowdy Cowgirl crowd.
“I was just thinking, ‘Get to the wall, jump,’” Morris said. “I was trying to rob it either way. I knew (Peyton) was working hard on the mound and I wanted to be able to back (her) up. Being able to rob that home run was big for our momentum also.”
And boy, was it.
Following scoreless innings in the fourth, fifth and sixth innings from St. George throughout which she tallied six K’s, the Blue Devils padded the 1-0 lead provided by senior outfielder Caroline Jacobsen’s homer in the second with two more home runs from fifth-year infielder Jameson Kavel and senior utility Kristina Foreman.
Kavel’s solo home run left in a hurry over the center field fence, the crack of the bat echoing throughout the quieted stands before cheers erupted from the Duke faithful. Foreman, on the other hand, took her time around the bases, as she seemed to know her two-run shot was gone off the bat as it blew between the palm trees in left field.
If the game wasn’t already sealed for the Blue Devils by then, Morris topped off the upset victory in the top of the seventh with a sparkling diving catch in foul territory to close out the game, shutting out an Oklahoma State team filled with several preseason All Americans in fifth-year pitcher Miranda Elish, who started in the circle for the Cowgirls, junior shortstop Kiley Naomi and Busby.
“When we make plays like that, I just feel like it’s nothing out of the normal for us,” St. George said. “We were just playing Duke softball.”
Molly Keshin is a sports media graduate student at Medill. You can follow her on Twitter at @mollykesh22.