A pair of wins this weekend has the Blue Devils dancing to the Final Four for the first time since 2006.
Fourth-seeded host Duke registered a 6-1 first round win against No. 15 New Hampshire Saturday before putting an end to a Cinderella story and beating No. 10 Massachusetts 4-1 on Sunday afternoon. The Minutewomen had previously upset No. 7 Virginia 4-3 to advance in the tournament. The Blue Devils will play top-seeded Maryland in the national semifinal in Norfolk, Va., Friday at 2 p.m.
“This team had been really excited and geared up to play this weekend,” Duke head coach Pam Bustin said. “I was impressed with our team today. The mentality of what they knew they needed to today and just having the poise and the conviction to do it.”
The Blue Devils (16-6) opened the tournament against the Wildcats (15-7), who came into the game having won eight straight games, including the America East Conference Championship. But they proved no match for Duke, which matched a season-high with six goals in the game.
Duke enjoyed the home-field advantage at Jack Katz Stadium, as well as the energetic home crowd.
“It was incredible [playing at home],” junior forward Abby Beltrani said. “Just having [our home crowd] here, it was awesome.”
Senior forward Emmie Le Marchand tied a career high with three goals on the afternoon and also notched her 11th assist of the season. Playing in her first NCAA tournament game since 2011, Le Marchand’s energy was a major reason why the Blue Devils jumped out to an early 2-0 start.
“It is always a big confidence boost to get a goal so early on,” Le Marchand said. “We set the tone.”
Just before halftime, New Hampshire forward Hannah Richard scored to cut the Duke lead to one, but the Blue Devils regained the momentum when redshirt senior Devon Gagliardi’s goal padded the Blue Devil lead in the 46th minute.
From there, Duke added three more goals, two by Le Marchand and one from senior Jessica Buttinger. The defense held the Wildcat attack scoreless in the second half, only allowing them to take three shots.
“Second half we made adjustments and kept it simple,” Bustin said. “The front end of the field took care of [goalkeeper] Lauren [Blazing] today by getting some goals.”
After dismantling New Hampshire, the Blue Devils advanced to play Massachusetts (19-5) just 24 hours later.
Once again, Duke had no trouble getting in front of its opponent early, and first half goals by Beltrani and defender Hannah Barreca lifted the Blue Devils to a 2-0 lead by halftime.
Duke sealed the game with two late goals by Buttinger and Morris, which came in the 55th and 58th minutes, respectively, capping a 10-goal weekend for the Blue Devils.
“It came down to really honing in and taking advantage of our opportunities,” Bustin said. “We have been working hard on our [penalty] corner attack all season. To have it start coming into a rhythm and success now is great.”
The defense had no trouble containing the Minutewomen offense, holding it to only one shot in the first half. Despite allowing 10 second-half shots and five penalty corners, the defense did not crumble underneath the attack pressure held Massachusetts to just one goal in the second half. Blazing had four second-half saves that kept the ball out of the cage.
The Minutewomen’s lone goal came when midfielder Brooke Sabia scored on a penalty stroke in the 44th minute. Massachusetts entered the contest averaging 3.45 goals per game, which ranked fifth in the nation.
“When they other team has that advantage on the attack our defense is really good at keeping things calm,” Blazing said. “Over the past week we have locked down on making the simple traps when it counts.”
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