Duke did the unexpected Friday with an early run against Stanford pitcher NiJaree Canady, among the nation’s most dominant pitchers this season.
The Blue Devils could never add on, though and are now one loss away from seeing their season end.
Duke managed only two hits after the first inning as Stanford rallied for a 3-1 win in game one of their NCAA softball tournament best-of-three super regional series at Duke Softball Stadium.
The No. 9 national seed, Stanford (44-13) moved one win away from a berth in next week’s Women’s College World Series in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma.
No. 8 seed Duke (48-11) must win the final two games of the series to make the first World Series appearance in program history. Game 2 of the series is scheduled for 3 p.m. Saturday.
Canady entered the game with an 0.46 ERA. Three of Duke’s first five hitters singled, though, producing just the eighth earned run all season against the standout freshman. Aminah Vega had the RBI hit with two outs after Deja Davis and Gisele Tapia started the rally with singles.
But Canady shut the Blue Devils down from there.
Duke had a chance to add to its lead in the fourth inning when Ana Gold drew a lead-off walk and Vega ripped a line drive single past Stanford’s Mahler at second base.
With two on and no outs, Duke coach Marissa Young sent up pinch-hitter Julia Boyet. But her bunt attempt resulted in a pop out to third base. Canady then struck out Kelly Torres and Francesca Frelick to end the threat and leave Duke with just a 1-0 lead.
That missed opportunity cost the Blue Devils when Stanford scored two runs in the fifth inning to take a 2-1 lead.
After Curd retired the first 12 Stanford batters, she walked Emily Young to start the fifth. The free pass came after Curd started the at-bat with two strikes. One pop out later, Stanford’s Emily Schultz hit a sharp ground ball to third that Duke’s Gold fielded cleanly and threw to second to get a force out. But Vega dropped the throw for an error giving the Cardinal two on with one out.
Kaitlyn Lim made Duke pay for its miscue by lining a double to left-center field, giving the Cardinal its first hit and driving in two runners for a 2-1 Stanford lead.
The Cardinal pushed its lead to 3-1 in the fifth inning. Allie Clements reached on a leadoff single and, with two outs, Aly Kaneshiro hit a line drive that eluded Vega’s diving attempt to drive in the run.
That was the last batter Curd (18-2) faced. She finished with three runs allowed (two earned) on three hits over 5 2/3 innings. She struck out six of the first 12 batters she faced but failed to fan any batters after the fourth inning.
The run Stanford added in the fifth inning to build a two-run lead proved crucial when Duke’s Claire Davidson started the bottom of the seventh with a double. Instead of only needing to bunt her over to third and manufacture a run to tie, the Blue Devils had to swing away.
Canaday retired the next three Duke batters, two on strikeouts, to end the game.