LOUISVILLE, Ky. - With Duke trailing 1-0 at halftime, it seemed as if Wake Forest would end the Blue Devils' season in the final weekend of the NCAA Tournament for the third consecutive year.
Blue Devil seniors Nicole Dudek and Katie Grant, however, would not let their college careers end that way.
Capitalizing on a three-goal charge during a nine-minute stretch of the second half, third-seeded Duke (18-4) knocked off the second-seeded and three-time defending champion Demon Deacons, 3-2, Friday in Louisville.
The Blue Devils advanced to their third consecutive national title game and will face first-seeded Maryland at 12:30 p.m. Sunday in Louisville.
"After two tournaments losing to Wake Forrest and just knowing the level they play, it's great to beat them," head coach Beth Bozman said. "It speaks volumes for our team because we know we had to play, and it was really going to be a battle, and it was. I couldn't be prouder of this group."
Coming out of the intermission with a renewed aggressive attack, Duke began to pressure the Demon Deacons' defense and take advantage of the fast turf field. Receiving a corner 13 minutes into the second half, Hilary Linton took the inbounds pass at the top of the circle and sent a shot in the direction of Grant. The Leighton, Pa. native then redirected the ball into the right corner of the goal, tying the game and shifting momentum toward the Blue Devils.
"We knew we were doing one thing wrong [in the first half] that we had talked about as part of our game plan, so we just adjusted it at halftime," Bozman said. "This was just the consummate team effort. Everyone back on defense, everybody on attack-that's why we won this game. It was 18 people working today."
Duke, however, was not done yet. Less than eight minutes later, Dudek took a pass from Grant and flicked it into the top left corner of the cage to give the Blue Devils their first lead of the game. Dudek scored again just one minute later on assists from Grant and Marian Dickinson to give Duke an insurmountable 3-1 lead.
"Today we just kept focusing on attacking," Grant said. 'We were just like 'keep attacking, keep attacking,' and then we put the third one in and kept attacking. That was our plan and we stuck to it."
With her second assist of the night, Grant also tied the all-time career assist record at Duke, with 63. Earlier this season, the senior became the Blue Devils' all-time leader in total points scored.
The victory over the Demon Deacons (21-2) was particularly sweet for Duke's seniors, as
Wake Forest has eliminated the Blue Devils in the championship game in each of the last two seasons.
"It meant a lot to us," Dudek said, "We just came into this game really prepared. I thought that everybody playing together was awesome for us and for the seniors to beat them. Too bad it wasn't the national championship, but at least we are going to be there."
The Terrapins advanced to the finals after beating Old Dominion, 3-2, in the other national semifinal contest. Maryland is the only team to beat the Blue Devils twice this year, most recently a 4-3 win in the semifinals of the ACC Championships Nov. 4.
"We had a great game against [Maryland] a couple weeks ago," Bozman said. "I've kind of thought all along that we were possibly the two best teams in the country, not slighting Wake and Old Dominion at all because they are exceptional teams. I think it's going to be a battle on Sunday."
Get The Chronicle straight to your inbox
Signup for our weekly newsletter. Cancel at any time.