Softball drops ACC opener to Blue Devils

Junior pitcher Chandler Dennis tosses the ball to herself during Tech’s series against Duke. Tech was swept by the Blue Devils, but competed well against a highly ranked team. // Photo by Caitlin Aycock Student Publications

It was a tough week for Tech softball as they opened ACC play on the wrong side of a sweep against Duke.

Tech began their slate of games with a dominant 5–0 shutout at home against crosstown Kennesaw State on Wednesday, March 2. The Jackets opened the scoring in the bottom of the first when junior catcher Emma Kauf scampered home from second after a passed ball and an errant throw by her KSU counterpart. Tech tacked on two more runs in the middle innings on a pair of RBI singles from freshman outfielder Ella Edgmon, and another two runs were added in the bottom of the 6th, the first of which came on Kauf’s third hit of the night.

The story of the game, however, was the brilliance of junior ace Blake Neleman who tossed a dazzling seven-strikeout complete game shutout while allowing just five hits. With her ninth win of the year in as many appearances, Neleman moved into a tie for first on the NCAA wins leaderboard. 

Riding an eight game winning streak, Tech welcomed No. 13 Duke to town on Friday, March 4 for each team’s first ACC series of the season. The Jackets’ offense continued its hot stretch in the bottom of the first when sophomore Mallorie Black drove in Kauf with a line-drive single. Unfortunately for the Jackets, the good news ended there. After Duke added a run in the bottom of the third, they broke the game wide open with a grand slam off of Neleman in the fourth. The Blue Devils scored another five runs in the next inning while Tech could only muster a single hit beyond the first frame, and Duke completed their mercy rule win 9–1.

In undoubtedly the most anticipated game in Duke athletics on the evening of Saturday, March 5, a full house at Mewborn Field watched the Tech offense again get off to a hot start as Kauf and senior first baseman Tricia Awald came around to score in the first inning. Duke soon tied it up on a pair of solo home runs, and a three run fifth inning made the score 5–2. A gorgeous opposite field homer from Kauf in the bottom of the fifth was not enough as Duke added another five runs in the seventh and went on to
win 10–3.

The rubber match on March 6 between the two squads was an absolute pitchers duel with Neleman making up for her uncommon Friday night struggles by turning in yet another strong performance. Neleman and Duke’s Peyton St. George traded zeroes for six straight innings and were supported by several sparkling defensive plays, including a superb off-balance spear and throw to first by Neleman herself. The offensive floodgates finally opened up in the top of the seventh when Neleman (9-3) gave up three runs, and despite a mammoth, two-out bomb from pinch hitter Caroline Davis in the bottom half of the inning, the Jackets dropped the hard-fought game 3–1.

For now, Tech softball is sitting at a respectable 15–5 on the season, but their upcoming schedule does not give them any breaks as they prepare to take on No. 3 Florida State at home from March 11-13. The team’s March 8 game vs MTSU was canceled by rain.