Late Rally Can't Overcome Early Deficit
Softball traveled to Durham, North Carolina this weekend to open their conference season against Duke. The schedule was altered slightly due to weather, and the teams will play a double-header today to wrap the series rather than play one game each today and tomorrow. The games this afternoon will begin at 2PM, with the second coming 30 minutes after the conclusion of the first. The games will be on ACC Network Extra. The Blue Devils enter the weekend ranked 15th in both polls, presenting the Cards with both a challenge and an opportunity. Entering the weekend, Louisville was just 2-4 against ranked opponents this season, a mark that became lopsided after a pair of losses to Northwestern last weekend. Unfortunately for Louisville, a loss yesterday prevents them from moving that record to even or better for the time being.
Despite Louisville having played just six of their twenty games at home, the Cards had played just two true road games entering the weekend. Those came against UCF in the Knights Classic, and Louisville split the games. As such, a road series to start conference play is sure to be difficult. Despite Duke's relative newness as a program, the team has exploded onto the scene quickly. 250 fans were on hand to watch the Friday night opener, which may not seem like a lot, but Louisville turned out just about 100 more at Ulmer against Northwestern last weekend.
While it looked like Louisville would be in for a hot start, things quickly turned sour. After back to back singles and a hit by pitch loaded the bases with nobody out, an infield liner resulted in a double-play and a pop out ended the inning. Ouch. To their credit, the Cards came out strong defensively as well. Freshman Alyssa Zabala has quickly laid claim to a prime pitching position and she got the Friday start. She opened the bottom of the first with a swinging strikeout, and, despite a one-out double, induced a ground out and a pop out to keep the Blue Devils off the board.
Louisville picked up in the top of the second where they left off in the first. Alternating strikeouts and walks, a two-out wild pitch put runners on second and third with two outs and the top of the order at bat. Just as they did in the first, the Cards left two runners on, with Korbe Otis flying out to center on a full count. Louisville was clearly swinging away in this one, as the inning saw two 1-2 strikeouts, two 3-2 walks, and the aforementioned 3-2 fly out. Perhaps some plate discipline was in order, but hindsight is 20/20.
After sitting down the leadoff batter in the bottom of the second, Zabala again gave up a double to the second hitter of the inning. This time, she was unable to get the ground out she picked up in the first, and a single scored the runner, with the batter advancing to second on the play at home. A pop up gave Louisville two-outs and an opportunity to limit the damage, but they couldn't quite close it out. Another single put runners on second and third (batter advanced to second on the throw home while the runner retreated to third), and the Cards intentionally walked the leadoff batter to load the bases. That's all well and good, but Duke pinch-hit for the second spot, and the substitute batter drew a full count walk to score a run. Duke's three-hole hitter (a position traditionally held for the most consistent RBI batter) tried to take advantage of Zabala's struggling inning by first pitch swinging, but she didn't get ahold of all of it and the would-be grand slam fell to the waiting left fielder. Louisville escaped down just 2-0.
For the third inning in a row, Louisville put two runners in scoring position. For the second inning in three attempts, they loaded the bases. As with the previous two innings, the result was approximately the same. No runs scored. Three left on base. The total LOB after three innings was seven. That's a brutal number, particularly for a team looking to play small ball.
Zabala's issues continued in the third after being dinged up in the second. She opened with a 2-2 HBP and, again, allowed the second batter to stroke a double. This game had oddly consistent occurrences. A wild pitch advanced the runners, bringing one home, and a single to score the other ended Alyssa's day. 2+ innings, 6 hits, 4 runs (all earned) 2 walks, a wild pitch, and a hit batter. The strikeout that opened the game was her only one, and it was an evening to forget. They happen. The freshman will bounce back.
Cassie Grizzard took over, inheriting a runner on first and no outs. She changed the second part quickly, inducing a pop fly, but the first was more thorny. Grizzard's second batter grounded into what should have been at least one out, if not a double play, but instead it was scored a fielder's choice with no out. The throw to second was either late, or pulled the fielder off the bag, and Duke had runners on first and second with just one out. Grizzard got a three-pitch strikeout to make it two outs and Deja Davis saw her second intentional walk to load the bases and set up a force out anywhere in the infield. Grizzard was apparently unimpressed by the idea of the defense trying to get an out after the previous grounder, so she got a strikeout to end the inning instead. Louisville trailed 4-0 after three.
Louisville got a bit of life in the fourth, as Madison "Pickle" Winkler pinch-hit for Vanessa Miller to open the inning. Pickle drew a full count walk before Paige Geraghty struck out behind her. With the order turned over, Pickle showed her speed and base-running prowess. Otis grounded out to the first baseman, who stepped on the bag for the force out and tried to fire it over to second for a tag-out to end the inning. The throw was off the mark, missing the shortstop completely, and Pickle advanced to third on the error. A wild pitch gave her the opportunity to come home, and Louisville was on the board with no hits in the inning. That changed rather quickly, as Sarah Gordon singled and Hannah File brought her (and herself) home with a shot to right field. Having seen their margin shrink from 4 to 1 in the span of three batters with Taylor Roby in the box, Duke made a pitching change and intentionally walked Roby. Daisy Hess worked a walk to put runners on first and second, but Easton Lotus was unable to capitalize. Nevertheless, Louisville had entered the inning down 4-0 and was taking the field down 4-3. Improvement.
The bottom half saw Gabby Holloway take over in the circle, but she was unable to miss bats as well. Duke greeted her with two straight singles before a sharp liner right to first made it runners on first and second with one out. The next batter fired one down the right field line as well, but instead of being caught at first, it ran through for a two-run triple. Another single scored the runner from third and Louisville quickly trailed by six, after being down by just one run a short four outs prior. Holloway continued to find the barrel of Duke bats, but at least the damage was limited. A fielder's choice preceded a fly out to end the inning. 9-3 Blue Devils.
Down to their final six outs with the top of the order up, Louisville worked to get back into the game. Otis got things started with an infield single, and the Cards benefited from an error on what might have been a double play. Instead of having nobody on and two outs, Korbe Otis took advantage of the missed throw to second by advancing to third. Hannah File rewarded that effort with a sacrifice fly before Roby struck out swinging hard at a full-count pitch. On the play, Sarah Gordon stole second. She could have very well stayed at first, though, as Daisy Hess sent one over the wall. A strikeout ended the inning, but Louisville was back in it at 9-6, having scored three unearned runs in the inning thanks to a single error.
After leaving seven on base in the first three innings, Louisville left just three on base over the final four. They outscored Duke 6-5 over that time (albeit Duke had one inning less at bat), but they couldn't overcome the early hole that they had dug. There was plenty to be optimistic about, but a loss with optimistic performances is still a loss. As I mentioned before, it was a tough day for Alyssa Zabala, but those are to be expected from a freshman. Louisville still had plenty of chances offensively to make up for her difficult outing, but they couldn't do it. And it all shouldn't hang on Zabala, either. Sam Booe was the only pitcher not to give up a run, and she pitched just one inning. Louisville has been hit or miss in the circle this season, allowing few runs against bad teams, holding good teams to limited offensive outputs in some games, and getting absolutely blasted in others.
A six run offensive output isn't too bad, but it definitely could have been more. I'm sure Coach Holly Aprile said the same in the post game. Louisville will look to get some revenge and will hope to get a win in the opening series of ACC play when they wrap up today. Again, the double-header will begin at 2PM on ACC Network Extra.
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Cardinal Couple Radio Hour Podcast
There's just three of us this week, as work obligations (on a Saturday? Gross!) hold out Jared and Daryl. Paulie, Jeff, and I will hold down the fort, and, after having last week off, we'll have plenty to discuss. With spring sports fully in action and the NCAA basketball tournament on the immediate horizon, we'll surely be busy for the full hour. As always, you can check out the live stream of the show by going to the Cardinal Couple YouTube page and clicking on the live video. Jeff usually creates that about an hour before the show, which officially starts at 11 AM Eastern. If the live time doesn't work for you, there are plenty of playback options, so be sure to check out whichever is best for you!
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Until next time, Go Cards!