Missouri softball beats Duke to force winner-take-all NCAA Super Regional game

Missouri relief pitcher Taylor Pannell ripped her mask off and screamed, “Let’s go” and “Come on” after Duke left the bases loaded in the sixth inning of their NCAA Super Regional game Saturday.

That proved to be Duke’s last rally as the Tigers’ success in the circle ended the Blue Devils’ 12-game winning streak, defeating the visitors, 3-1, in game two of their best-of-three series in Columbia, Missouri.

Missouri (48-17) forced a winner-take-all game on Sunday for a spot in the Women’s College World Series. Duke (51-7) has never made the sport’s final eight teams in its seven-year history. First pitch and broadcast information will be released at a later time.

Down 3-1 in the sixth inning, Duke loaded the bases with one out. But Pannell struck out Ana Gold and escaped the threat when Kelly Torres popped out to shortstop. Pannell retired the Blue Devils in order in the seventh as Duke ended the game having recorded just two hits.

Much of the second game was a pitching duel between the programs, with the two teams combining for six hits.

Both bullpens struggled in the first game, starting pitchers Jala Wright and Laurin Krings unable to command the miniscule strike zone. That wasn’t an issue on Saturday. Neither pitcher allowed a runner in the first three innings and retired nine straight batters.

Wright threw 30 pitches in the first inning of the initial matchup. She didn’t reach the 30-pitch mark until the third frame in the second after inducing several one- or two-pitch outs. Cassidy Curd entered the game in the top of the fourth, her second relief appearance of the weekend.

Missouri recorded a trio of hits prior to the pitching change. The single scored one after right fielder Claire Davidson’s throw home was offline, but defensive miscommunication allowed a second run to cross as the Tigers built a 3-0 lead.

Torres, Duke’s catcher, backed away to cover home plate, while none of the remaining defenders fielded the loose ball. The Tigers took advantage of the miscue to score an unearned run. They added their third run on a sacrifice groundout.

Wright threw 3 ⅓ innings, allowing three hits, two runs, one unearned run and a pair of strikeouts.

Krings left the circle after 4 ⅔ innings, one run, two hits and three strikeouts. She was replaced by Marissa McCann who faced just two batters, before Pannell entered. Pannell, the Division I leader in saves, picked up her 15th.

Duke center fielder D’Auna Jennings provided a boost on defense, recording a handful of excellent plays in the outfield. Her best play came in the top of the second when Jennings snagged a fly ball at the warning track, robbing the Tigers of an extra base hit.

Duke’s hot-shot offense never found a rhythm against the Tigers pitching staff. It finished with two hits, the fewest all season. They haven’t finished with fewer than six hits since their 5-3 win over N.C. State on April 28.

Additionally, the Blue Devils have not finished with fewer than two runs since their 1-0 win over Virginia on April 19.

Designated player Francesca Frelick scored Duke’s lone run of the contest in the bottom of the fifth. Frelick hit a two-out solo home run to end the shutout and force a pitching change.

The Blue Devils had an opportunity to take the lead in the sixth inning after loading the bases on two walks and an error but couldn’t capitalize. Gold launched a one-out ball over the fence, but the would-be grand slam missed fair territory by a matter of inches. She then struck out ahead of Torres’ pop out.

This will be updated with postgame information and quotes.