After burning through five ranked opponents in their last six matchups, the Blue Devils entered Saturday’s matchup looking to score another signature win before the postseason.

Instead, Duke missed numerous opportunities and uncharacteristically struggled to find the back of the net, falling to its second top-10 opponent this season despite a valiant defensive effort.

The No. 2 Blue Devils fell to No. 9 Syracuse 2-1 Saturday at Jack Katz Stadium in their first home loss of the year. Despite an early goal from junior Rose Tynan and multiple key saves from redshirt sophomore Sammi Steele, Duke could not withstand a relentless barrage of shots from the Orange, conceding both goals off corners.

“We played well and we actually controlled most of the game—we just had unfortunate opportunities that we gave to Syracuse in the corners," Blue Devil head coach Pam Bustin said. "Both were two broken corners, which is something we take a lot of pride in, so it's surprising and disappointing that that's the way those goals went in."

Syracuse's game-winner came with under seven minutes to go in the match, when forward Laura Hurff pressed forward on the attack and forced a penalty corner. Lies Lagerweij inserted the corner to a wide-open Hurff, who slapped a shot off the post and behind the keeper for her fourth goal of the season, putting Duke in a 2-1 hole that it could not recover from.

The Blue Devils (9-2, 2-2 in the ACC) had rocketed out to an early lead, as Tynan teamed up with senior Ashley Kristen just 6:05 into the game. After Syracuse (10-3, 2-3) made an attempt at goal, Kristen countered by carrying the ball downfield and weaving through the Orange’s back line to find herself deep in enemy territory. The Vancouver native pushed forward just enough to force Syracuse goalkeeper Borg Van Der Velde out of position, then passed to Tynan to give Bustin’s team the 1-0 advantage.

However, the Orange came back with a vengeance.

After Duke’s initial goal, the Blue Devils managed just three more shots in the period. Syracuse hounded Duke’s back line, taking eight shots in the first half, but was largely held at bay by Steele. However, back-to-back penalty corners in Blue Devil territory gave the Orange the opportunity they needed to level the score midway through the period on a goal by Jennifer Bleakney, putting both teams on equal footing by the end of the half.

“We need to keep our heads up and be proud of the hockey game we played today and holding our own,” Bustin said. “We didn't, however, capitalize on our own opportunities, which is again surprising and it happens, but we have to be happy that we created opportunities and then lock in to finish them.”

For most of the second period, both teams traded blows in the midfield, each managing five shots in the half. The Blue Devils had a golden opportunity to regain the lead early in the period on another counterattack. Playing off back-to-back saves from Steele, junior Caroline Andretta charged into Orange territory and earned a one-on-one chance against Van Der Velde, but shot just wide of the frame.

Although the Blue Devils struggled to make much happen on offense—the one goal marked their lowest scoring output since their 4-1 loss to Virginia Sept. 8—Duke still showed its mettle in defense. Steele totaled eight saves for the afternoon—just one shy of tying her personal best—in the face of 13 shots from Syracuse.

“Sammi is doing her job,” Bustin said. “She's keeping it simple in there and the defense around her is helping, especially in open-field situations where shots are coming in and she can read them pretty well and make a great save. She's part of that defensive unit that we can take a lot of pride in and she did it again today.”

Duke won’t have much time to think about this loss, as it will be back in action Sunday afternoon against No. 23 Iowa.

“Honestly, if you can erase the score of this game and the result of this game, I want to continue to build on the kind of hockey we played today,” Bustin said. “We need to take care of our opportunities, build on our opportunities and take that energy into tomorrow.”