For forty minutes, Wake Forest dominated the NCAA tournament semifinal against Duke. As the first half drew to a close, however, Kim DeCesare put the Blue Devils ahead 1-0, scoring off of a corner kick and igniting an offensive explosion the rest of the way.
Duke defeated the Demon Deacons 4-1 Friday night in order to advance to the NCAA Tournament final against Stanford. The Blue Devils built off of a late first-half spark from a couple substitutes, leaving Wake Forest in the dust.
For Duke, the first half was characterized by narrow escapes. Despite giving up five corners in the first 12 minutes, the Blue Devils managed to keep the Demon Deacons from putting a shot on net.
With seven minutes remaining in the first half, Duke midfielder Kaitlyn Kerr made a game-saving interception of Wake Forest forward Katie Stengel’s cross at the top of the 18-yard box.
Moments later, Blue Devil defender gave up possession on the back line, setting up an attack for the Demon Deacons. A sliding tackle just outside of the 18-yard box from teammate Erin Koballa abruptly halted the run.
Clinging on to hold Wake Forest goalless as the half drew to a close, Duke head coach Robbie Church substituted freshman forward Katie Trees into the game. With just three minutes to go until the halftime whistle, Trees pushed down the flank, earning the Blue Devils a corner kick.
Midfielder Nicole Lipp’s free kick deflected to a wide-open Kim DeCesare on the far side of the goal. DeCesare then fired a shot towards the middle of the net, deflecting off of a Demon Deacon defender and then goalkeeper Aubrey Bledsoe. As two Wake Defenders rushed toward the ball along the goal line, it trickled in to give Duke a 1-0 lead entering halftime.
“We’re fortunate. We really dodged a bullet,” Church said at the end of the first period.
Making the most of their good fortune to have a lead, the Blue Devils quickly added to their tally, scoring in the 51st minute. Off a Kelly Cobb cross that made it all the way to the far post due to miscommunication between Bledsoe and Demon Deacon defender Jackie Rogue, Laura Weinberg played it back to the middle where forward Mollie Pathman scored on an empty-net volley.
Six minutes later, however, Wake Forest struck back. Demon Deacon forward Rachel Nuzzoleese drilled a free kick from just outside the top of the 18-yard box around Duke’s wall and into the right side of the net.
Eager to regain control, the Blue Devils launched an attack straight off of the kickoff. A foul committed by Wake Forest midfielder Riley Ridgik on Kerr in the box set up a penalty kick for Mollie Pathman, who calmly placed it to the left for her second goal of the game.
Despite a number of offensive pushes from the Demon Deacons, a 75th-minute header goal from Kerr off another Lipp corner kick gave Duke a 4-1 lead to secure its advancement to the finals. With six career tournament goals—including five this year—Kerr, a sophomore, now leads the Blue Devils in career NCAA tournament goals.
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Duke will now play an undefeated Stanford team, who defeated Florida State 3-0, Sunday at 1 p.m. for the national championship.