Ten unanswered goals to start off the first period by No. 2 Northwestern (19-1) marked the beginning of the end for No. 7 Duke Saturday. The Blue Devils (15-5) fell 18-8 in the quarterfinals of the NCAA Tournament.
Duke entered the matchup vying for its fifth semifinal appearance in the past six seasons, but it was the Wildcats’ aggressive offense early on that earned them the right to compete for their sixth consecutive national championship, ensuring the Blue Devils had a near-impossible attempt at a comeback in the second half.
“If you look at the box score, it was clear that we got put on our heels in the first half and let them go on a run,” head coach Kerstin Kimel said. “We had good opportunities that we didn’t finish on, and sometimes we rushed on offense and took the first thing available to us, giving them back possession quickly. Our game plan wasn’t that.”
Northwestern outshot Duke 23-7 in the first half as the Blue Devils had a hard time all game finding good offensive openings. With 6:34 left in the half, sophomore Kat Thomas gave a much-needed answer to the Wildcats’ unceasing offense by netting her first of two goals in the period.
Going into the second period down 13-2, Duke had a chance to finally take control of the match. Senior Lindsay Gilbride led the drive, scoring a goal, and sparking a 4-1 Blue Devil run. Sophomore Kim Wenger then took advantage of a free position to cut Northwestern’s lead to 10. Soon after, Gilbride netted her second goal to cut the game to single digits.
“Halftime gave us an opportunity to really get back and focus,” Kimel said. “We won the second half. I am proud of our kids and I feel like we played better in the second half and really battled back.”
Although Duke had three more shot attempts and outscored the Wildcats 6-5 in the period, Northwestern’s early lead proved too large to overpower. Following a goal by junior Christie Kaestner, the Wildcats scored three goals in four minutes, bringing their lead to 11. Sophomore Amanda Jones rallied an unassisted goal with over 15 minutes to play, but the Blue Devils couldn’t draw Northwestern in any closer as the match ended with each team scoring only one final goal.
The Wildcats ended the match with five players registering three or more goals—Danielle Spencer and Erin Fitzgerald led all scorers with four goals respectively. Yet, despite Northwestern’s scoring domination, Kimmel said that she was impressed with Kaitlin Gaiss’s performance in the net.
Duke’s Gilbride, Kaestner and Thomas all scored twice, and Jones and Wenger each pitched in one goal. Kaestner’s scoring display ensured she ended the season as the Blue Devils’ leading scorer with 74 total points followed by Gilbride with 70.
The Blue Devils haven’t beaten Northwestern since 2006, and, unfortunately for the team, the streak could not be broken Saturday.
Get The Chronicle straight to your inbox
Signup for our weekly newsletter. Cancel at any time.