The Blue Devils turned their final home game of the regular season into a thrilling victory.
No. 8 Duke notched the go-ahead goal in the final minutes of regulation to win 3-2 against the James Madison Dukes Sunday afternoon. Both teams will finish their seasons on the road before beginning postseason play in November.
“It was a good fight for us,” senior midfielder Abby Beltrani said. “We fought through a lot. It was a tight game, and JMU is definitely feisty and they worked hard, so I think it was good for us to keep the intensity high the entire game and to stay on task, stick to what we know and then we ended up scoring so it worked out for us.”
The Blue Devils took their first lead of the game in the 66th minute when a high shot from senior forward Jessica Buttinger soared to the far side of the goal where freshman forward Ashley Kristen was positioned to tap the ball in for the 3-2 lead.
Duke (11-4) was immediately forced to protect its lead when the Dukes earned a penalty corner of their own. Beltrani surged forward to defend the shot and managed to deflect the ball outside of scoring range, transferring possession to the Blue Devils and securing the win.
“[I was thinking] ‘just run fast, get out there quickly… just stop it, don’t let it in the goal’—and it worked out,” Beltrani said.
From start to finish, the game was filled with fast-paced action and pressure from both sides, with the first score of the game coming just six minutes into the first half. James Madison (9-5) put the Blue Devils behind early when a baseline advance from redshirt junior forward Taylor West drew goalkeeper Lauren Blazing out of the goal. West took advantage, dumping the ball to junior forward Danni Wilson who finished in front of the goal to give the Dukes an early 1-0 lead.
“Nothing comes easy,” head coach Pam Bustin said. “They caught us in a moment where we let our guard down, and that’s something you just can’t let happen. We’re getting better at it, but good teams will still find it when you don’t do it.”
Duke and James Madison both scored their next goals on penalty corner plays, with the Blue Devils scoring first to equal the score and the Dukes then surging ahead. Buttinger took control of the ball as the first half game clock wound down and passed to junior midfielder Aileen Johnson, who spun the ball under diving senior goalkeeper Hannah George, ending the half tied 2-2.
“We knew that if we just stuck to what we do—two-touch passing, [getting] back to our structure—that the game would work out for us, which it did,” Beltrani said.
Although the second half continued with the same tempo as the first, the score remained tied. Despite James Madison’s familiarity with high-scoring games—averaging 3.38 goals per game—the high-speed action gave the Blue Devils an advantage.
“We’re a team that likes to keep the ball moving,” Bustin said. “We like to keep a good passing game going, and we were able to do that today, which I think kept possession in our favor most of the time.”
The game marked the last regular season game that Buttinger, Beltrani and classmate Martine Chichizola will play on Williams Field at Jack Katz Stadium. The three seniors have combined to play in nearly 200 games throughout the course of their four years, notching 82 points between them. Chichizola missed the entirety of her junior year due to injury but has since returned to play in every game this season.
“[Martine has] positively contributed over her last four years, but on the field she’s really made a commitment to help us be the team that we want to be,” Bustin said. “Abby’s leadership and ability to keep everything real on the field is awesome, and Jess’s passion and her charisma to play… [are] big parts of who we are.”
The seniors will play at least one more game on their home field when Duke hosts the ACC tournament in November. Before then, the Blue Devils will travel to No. 10 Syracuse and Richmond a week later to close out the regular season.
“This was a tight game, but we know that we’re going to keep getting better,” Beltrani said. “We have a good whole week of practice ahead of us, and then we’re [thinking] ‘take care of Syracuse, take care of Richmond and just keep going up.’”
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