Sanford's sudden-death goal caps comeback

Looking at the scoreboard at halftime, the Blue Devils probably would not have believed that their senior captain Leigh Jester would eventually call Saturday's contest at Virginia the "most unbelievable lacrosse game" that she has ever been a part of.

Down 10-5 to the No. 4 Cavaliers (9-2, 2-2 in the ACC) at the end of the first period, fifth-ranked Duke (9-1, 2-1) found itself facing what seemed like an insurmountable deficit. Nevertheless, the Blue Devils rallied back from an emotionless start to secure an exhilarating 19-18 comeback win in triple overtime.

With 13 seconds left in the third overtime, a sudden death period, a wide-open Rachel Sanford received a pass from Kristin Waagbo in front of the net and tucked away the game-winning goal.

"The way we came back from such a deficit, and the way we finished off the game is something to really be proud of and really showed the kind of character that we have," Waagbo said. "It was definitely one of the best and well-fought games I've ever played in."

The game went back and forth late in the second half, with each team answering the other's offensive attack by dismantling the opposing defense. But with less than a minute left in regulation, Duke was down 18-17 and had all the pressure to score.

With only 20 seconds remaining, junior Caroline Cryer found senior attacker Waagbo for a game-tying goal-her sixth score on the day-that would send the game into overtime.

With the comeback completed, the Blue Devils took the game into their hands and controlled the contest through overtime. Over all three extra periods, Duke allowed the Cavaliers just one shot on net, compared to the Blue Devils' nine.

"At the end of the game [we were] running off of the emotion of us coming back," Jester said. "It was sudden-death overtime, and we had the upper hand because we'd come back [when] we were down 10-5. We just had the mental edge."

The Blue Devils did not have that edge through the entire game, however.

Duke has been plagued by slow starts recently, and when Virginia jumped out to a 5-1 lead in the first 13 minutes of play, it seemed as if the team's season-long issue was again keeping it from getting into the game.

"When things aren't going your way, you have to show a lot of emotion and compete, and I don't think we were doing that," head coach Kerstin Kimel said. "The whole idea of playing with emotion and passion for lacrosse has been kind of a theme for us in the last week or so, and to come out and not do it in the first half was really disappointing."

In the locker room following the dismal opening half, Duke captain Michelle Menser spoke to her team about its disappointing lackluster performance, hoping to light a fire under her teammates.

"Michelle really spoke with emotion and tried to get the team out of the first-half slump we were in," said Sanford, a senior midfielder. "I think everyone realized that we weren't out of the game yet."

In addition to Menser's strong words, Kimel was proactive in deciding to replace starting goalkeeper Kim Imbesi with junior Reagan Bosch early in the second half. Jester credited Bosch's back-to-back saves right after she was subbed-in for giving Duke's offense time to gain some momentum.

It was clear the Blue Devils responded to their captain's speech as well as Kimel's confidence in Bosch, tying the game 12-12 just more than 11 minutes into the second period. Six minutes later, Cryer pushed an unassisted goal into the net, giving the Blue Devils their first lead of the contest.

From that point on, Duke was able to stay with Virginia, but unable to put the game out of reach. The Blue Devils, however, had a physical advantage over the Cavaliers, who could not capitalize as Duke did on substitutions off the bench.

"We were still playing with the mindset that Virginia only played 13 players, so we had considerably more depth," Sanford said. "We knew we weren't as tired as they were, so I think that gave us a little bit of a mental edge."

Whatever the edge was, it was enough. After capping off the comeback on the road against a formidable ACC opponent, the Blue Devils will return home before preparing for their next trip-which includes a rematch against No. 1 Northwestern, which beat Duke in last year's Final Four.


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