Virginia devastates Duke in closing minutes

PHILADELPHIA - For the third time in three years, the Blue Devils ended their season just one step short of the National Championship game. Second-seeded Duke let a nine-goal lead slip away to lose 14-13 to No. 3 Virginia Friday night at Franklin Field.

After her team had already made an epic comeback, Virginia senior midfielder Jess Wasilewski carried the ball in front of the cage with the score knotted at 13 and nine seconds remaining in the game and rattled one home to send the Cavaliers into the title game.

The ten-goal comeback win was the largest in NCAA tournament history.

"I thought our kids believed in themselves-I thought they went hard," Duke head coach Kerstin Kimel said. "It's just tough."

The heartbreak of yet another close NCAA tournament loss was amplified by the way the Blue Devils (16-4) opened the game. Kimel called the first half "the best half of lacrosse that we've played this season," and Duke headed into the locker room with a comfortable 8-3 lead.

The Blue Devils carried their momentum into the second half, completing a 5-1 run in the first 10 minutes of the second period. Junior attacker Caroline Cryer-who set the school record for single-season goals with 71 in the second half-highlighted the run with an acrobatic goal, as she caught the ball in front of the net in midair and flicked it over her head, without looking at the net.

But that's where the dream ended and the nightmare began.

The Cavaliers (19-4) scored at the 17:09 mark in the second half and, soon after that, Duke sophomore midfielder Carolyn Davis stumbled on a run towards the net and was carted off the field due to a severe knee injury. The Blue Devils would not score again in the game.

Instead, Duke had 14 turnovers in the half, five more than the number of shots the team took in the second period. Virginia, on the other hand, took control of the game offensively and bombarded Duke goalie Kim Imbezzi with 28 shots.

"We made too many mistakes, and once we started making mistakes, we started playing a little bit sloppier," senior midfielder Michelle Menser said. "Virginia was able to capitalize on our mistake, which was the biggest thing [in its comeback]. So they just took the reigns and the momentum, and we weren't able to get it back."

Duke jumped out to its early lead in the first half with a combination of efficient offense and sturdy defense. Senior attacker Kristen Waagbo helped start the game with a bang, scoring the first of her four goals just 25 seconds into the first period. The Blue Devils capitalized on almost every offensive opportunity in that half, converting nine shots into eight goals and ending the half on a 5-1 run.

The team's steady offense was supplemented by the astonishing play of Imbezzi, who stopped 10 of the Cavaliers' 13 shots on goal in the first period.

"She was outstanding," Kimel said "We have a little thing working with her we call 'beach balls'-the ball is as big as a beach ball-and tonight the ball was as big as a beach ball for her."

The Cavaliers' historic rally echoed Duke's March 31 come-from-behind victory at Virginia, in which the Blue Devils erased a six goal deficit to capture a thrilling 19-18 triple-overtime contest.

"[In that game], we were the underdog, and we were coming back and being really resilient and they lost to us," senior midfielder Rachel Sanford said. "And so they showed the same kind of character in coming back on us, and we just weren't able to capitalize."

In Sunday's title game, two-time defending champion Northwestern beat Virginia 15-13.


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