Closing the season with a series of four must-win games, Duke has been making it look easy. After downing Davidson last Wednesday, the Blue Devils took a trip to Blacksburg this weekend and smothered Virginia Tech in a 2-0 win.
The Hokies (6-8-1, 0-6-1 in the ACC) managed just two shots on goal the entire match. Senior James Belshaw tied his career-best with his seventh shutout of the season, while junior Sebastien Ibeagha and the rest of the Blue Devil backline stifled their opponents.
“We were solid back there,” head coach John Kerr said. “We did a really good job winning headers and playing out of the back.”
The first 10 minutes proved the lone bright spot for the Hokies, as they controlled possession and kept the ball in Duke’s defensive third. A number of long goal kicks from Belshaw created counterattacks on the wings, but neither team developed any real chances. Duke (7-7-1, 3-4-1) looked as clumsy in front of goal as their opponents in the early going, often turning the ball over with sloppy passes.
“It was a small crowd and kind of a dismal evening. We discussed that before the game, but for some reason we came out flat,” Kerr said.
The Blue Devils were more composed later in the half and finally broke through in the 31st minute. A long through ball from Riley Wolfe found freshman Zach Mathers in open space. With only the goalie to beat, Mathers was blocked on his first attempt but coolly finished the rebound to put the Blue Devils up 1-0 with his first goal of the season.
Duke did not let go in the second half, continuing to swarm the ball and looking for opportunities to crack the Virginia Tech defense. Sophomore Luis Rendon was particularly dangerous, with one shot sailing just over the crossbar and another being punched away by goalie Kyle Renfro.
“We talked at halftime about coming out and making sure that we maintained the intensity,” Kerr said. “I thought our second-half performance was excellent on both sides of the field.”
Virginia Tech pushed several defenders forward in the hopes of a late goal, but the strategy backfired. The Blue Devils went on a counterattack in the 88th minute, with Jonathan Aguirre racing up the left sideline. A lofted ball over the Hokie defense found Wolfe with a clear shot on goal, which he finished with a line drive just inside the far post.
The win brings Duke to .500 on the season, but it will need to keep up the high level of play as it finishes the season with non-conference games against Elon and SIU Edwardsville.
“If we want to play post-season soccer, then we have to win these games,” Kerr said. “We’re back to .500 now, but we have two games left in the regular season. We have to keep it up.”