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With one out and a runner on first in the top of the sixth and Summer Clark pitching, Gisele Tapia rocketed the first pitch of her at-bat right back at the pitcher. Clark tried to stab the ball, but it deflected off her wrist and fell to shortstop Neli Casares-Maher, who was unable to make the throw to second in time. But the larger issue besides the Blue Devils two-on one-out opportunity was Clark herself, who had crumpled to the ground following the hit.
Just three innings earlier, Lindsey Hendrix had been forced to leave the game due to an injury of her own, and Syracuse had already used all four of its pitchers who had thrown more than two innings this season. Clark’s coaches, training staff and teammates gathered around her in the pitcher’s circle. Clark got up off the ground, checked out her apparent injury with the training staff and threw a couple warmup pitches. As the coaches and trainers walked off the field, Clark stayed in the game.
Syracuse (20-19, 3-14 Atlantic Coast Conference) used four pitchers against Duke (35-6, 15-2 ACC), none of whom pitched even three innings. The team’s lack of a definitive ace showed against the Blue Devils, as each pitcher (with the exception of Hendrix, who pitched just a third of an inning) allowed an earned run in Duke’s 5-0 win. Duke scored five times but threatened to score many more. The Blue Devils left 12 runners on base, including seven in scoring position.
“If you can get an elite pitcher, the rest falls into place. You’ve got to have the pitching for your team to really get there,” said Bret Denio, the president of Explosion Softball and the national director of Premier Girls Fastpitch.
Ariana Adams started the game, but she allowed nine batters to reach base and only recorded five outs before exiting with the bases loaded and two outs in the second inning. Meanwhile, Blue Devils’ starter and fellow graduate student Peyton St. George pitched a complete game shutout, allowing four hits and three walks. Syracuse only managed to place one runner on third base all game.
On the second pitch of the third inning, Claire Davidson stepped to the plate against Lindsey Hendrix and connected on a line shot back at the pitcher’s circle. It deflected off Hendrix’s leg for an infield single as Hendrix fell to the ground and the crowd immediately became hushed.
Hendrix stayed on the ground for a few minutes as her team huddled around her and the coaches and trainers visited. It was only the fourth pitch of her outing after she retired Tapia to end the second inning and strand the bases loaded. Hendrix got up and walked a couple laps around the circle, limping and flexing her knee back-and-forth. She returned to the circle and threw a couple warmup pitches, but then walked off the field and into the dugout with the trainers.
“It’s about playing for her,” Geana Torres said. “Knowing that she got hurt, she got hit and we need to rally behind her. We need to step up and have her back because she’s down and out and we need to do whatever it takes to support her in the moment”
Syracuse brought out its third pitcher of the afternoon in Kaia Oliver. Oliver escaped the third inning and allowed just one baserunner in the fourth, but got herself into a jam of her own in the fifth inning. After back-to-back-to-back singles and a sacrifice fly to increase Duke’s advantage to 4-0, Summer Clark came in to relieve her.
Clark was able to escape Oliver’s jam but got into trouble the following inning. Jude Padilla caught pinch runner Kelsey Zampa stealing with a perfect throw to second base to get the first out of the inning, but Clark hit the following batter, the third hit batsman of the day for the Blue Devils. Two singles later, Duke increased its lead to 5-0.
Clark, Hendrix, Adams and Oliver all hold ERAs between 3.15 and 5.14 but no pitcher has been able to stand out as the team’s ace, a spot held most recently by Alexa Romero. Despite being the oldest pitcher on the staff, Adams leads Syracuse in losses. Two underclassmen, Clark and Hendrix, have pitched to a lower ERA than her this season.
In nonconference play, Clark pitched six consecutive starts of over three innings and held an ERA as low as 0.79 on Feb. 26. But since ACC play has begun, Clark hasn’t thrown more than three innings in an appearance and her ERA has risen to 3.48.
In 39 games, Syracuse has only recorded eight complete games. The two that came in ACC play were against Pittsburgh, the only team lower than Syracuse in the conference standings. In comparison, St. George completed her 11th game of the season against the Orange.