NORFOLK, Va.—Duke’s first-ever national championship is within reach.
The fourth-seeded Blue Devils sent top-seeded Maryland home with 3-2 win in the NCAA semifinal Friday at L.R. Hill Sports Complex in Norfolk, Va. Duke will take on the winner of this evening's matchup between North Carolina and Connecticut Sunday at 4 p.m.
Duke had previously lost to the Terrapins twice in the past three weeks, including a 3-2 overtime loss in the ACC tournament.
“We’ve taken each game to improve piece by piece,” senior forward Emmie Le Marchand said. “Maryland is a fantastic opponent. You get better by playing the best. We know that is the standard we need to be up to if we are going to get to where we are today.”
The Blue Devils took control of the game early, scoring in the third minute when Heather Morris scored her third goal of the NCAA tournament. The freshman stepped in front of the net and slid the ball past Maryland goalkeeper Natalie Hunter to put Duke on the board early.
“Every half that we have played Maryland we’ve played a better half,” head coach Pam Bustin said. “We’ve learned and we have looked back to try to keep the game within our game plan and within our strengths.”
The Terrapins, who came into the game leading the country in goals scored, responded just two minutes later when forward Hayley Turner rebounded a corner shot and hit it into the cage.
In the the 17th minute, the Duke attack responded again when defender Brenna Rescigno’s shot off a penalty corner was redirected into the goal by senior defender Paula Heimbach.
The Blue Devils added another goal to pad their early lead when Le Marchand fielded a rebound and sent it flying over the helmet of Hunter. The goal was Le Marchand’s fifth in the past three games.
But the strong Maryland attack struck again when ACC Offensive Player of the Year Jill Witmer made a beautiful pass to forward Anna Dessoye who deflected the ball into the cage to make the score 3-2.
The Blue Devils held Witmer to just one assist and did not allow her to score. Despite the close margin at halftime, Duke held its first lead on the Terrapins this season.
Clinging to the one goal lead, the Blue Devils found themselves under intense pressure from the Terrapin attack.
Despite being outshot 19-10—including an 11-2 margin in the second half—eight second-half saves by redshirt sophomore goalkeeper Lauren Blazing denied a Maryland comeback attempt.
“One of the really important things in a period of pressure like that is to regain control of the game,” Blazing said. “We were absorbing their pressure and [the defense] kept the shots pretty easy [to defend].”
The Terrapins continued to pressure the Duke defensive lines in the last 10 minutes of the game, but could not score against Blazing, who made a number of diving saves to preserve her team's lead.
In the previous two games against Maryland, the Blue Devils were outscored 8-3 and were blown out 5-1 on Senior Day in Durham.
“We did a lot of review over the last four games,” Bustin said. “The more you study, the better you know it. We have done it so they are familiar with it.”
When the final seconds ticked off the clock, Duke punched its ticket to the championship game. If the Blue Devils take on the Tar Heels Sunday, it will be just the second time in history that the Tobacco Road rivals have squared off for a national championship in any sport.
“This is something that we have worked for,” Blazing said. “Not just this season, but starting from last season. We have been putting in the time, the effort, the conditioning. People are out on the field every single day, doing the work, with the belief and final goal.”
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