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Duke field hockey wins 3-2 thriller against Liberty after blowing early lead

The Blue Devils staved off Liberty Sunday with a last-second goal to claim their second victory of the weekend.
The Blue Devils staved off Liberty Sunday with a last-second goal to claim their second victory of the weekend.

After slogging through a four-hour, weather-delayed victory Friday night, Duke made sure to send Liberty home on time Sunday afternoon.

The Blue Devils gave up a two-goal lead to the Flames, but turned up their attack to close out the game as freshman defender Alexa Mackintire netted the game-winning goal with just 23 seconds to go to give Duke a 3-2 win at Jack Katz Stadium.

“We wanted to avoid overtime, and we wanted to make it ours,” Mackintire said of Duke’s final push. “We had a really long game on Friday, between the weather and the overtime. We wanted to finish it really quick.”

MacKintire’s score, which bounced in after a number of deflections in the shooting circle, came at the tail end of a bombardment of attacks from the Blue Devils.

Duke’s offense registered nine shots in the final 25 minutes of the game—three more than Liberty’s total for the contest.

“I love the spark that we had in the last few minutes of the game, actually the latter part of the half,” head coach Pam Bustin said. “I loved the energy that we had in the attacking. It was just a matter of time where it had to go in.”

Despite the draining overtime win Friday, the Blue Devils opened Sunday’s contest with a high level of pressure on the offensive end as well. After successfully defending two penalty corners for the Flames in the first two minutes of the match, Duke mounted a series of attacks, earning a penalty stroke in the eighth minute. Junior midfielder Aileen Johnson converted, placing her shot high and to the left, just beyond goalkeeper Mallory Cuccio’s reach.

The Blue Devils struck again moments later. In the 10th minute, the Blue Devils scored on a counterattack as Mackintire delivered a cross from the right sideline, finding fellow freshman Ashley Kristen open in the middle of the shooting circle for a short-range finish.

“We had to counter really quickly and just catch them on their heels and put it in the circle,” Mackintire said. “Our forwards had been doing awesome getting there, so I knew if I just put it in there, there would be someone to touch it in.”

Trailing 2-0, Liberty thought it had cut the lead in half just three minutes later when a Liberty player found the back of the cage from the top of the shooting circle. Despite the Flames’ celebrations, the goal was disallowed as the shooter was deemed to have struck the ball from just outside the circle.

Boasting an offense that has already scored 50 goals on the year and 24 in the last three contests, Liberty did get on the board before the half ended. In the 22nd minute, team points-leader Sarah Gipe received a pass down the right side of the shooting circle and weaved a cross in front of Duke’s net to teammate Alynn Richardson, who ended the shutout with a close-range finish.

Trailing by just one at the half despite having been outshot 7-2, Liberty put the pressure on the Blue Devils in the opening moments of the second half.

Just five minutes in, the Flames nearly had a chance at equalizing, but junior forward Natalie Barr could not connect on a cross right in front of Duke’s cage.

Barr's sophomore sister, Serena, made up for it soon after, penetrating the circle on two consecutive plays and getting two shots on goal. With her second attempt, the ball deflected off Blue Devil goalkeeper Lauren Blazing to Gipe, who fired the tying goal into the net, prompting Bustin to call a timeout with 22 minutes to play.

“I think what happens is when we’re feeling that pressure, kids try to do too much, and [we had to] just communicate what has to be done,” Bustin said. "They know what has to be done, but just go back to it and trust it and then just take care of your responsibilities [is what we needed]. We needed to get tighter and better on our marking in the circle and we needed to get pressure on the ball sooner, and that’s what we finally did.”

From there, the Duke attack took over. Led by their forwards and midfielder Johnson, the Blue Devils launched shot after shot at Cuccio. Johnson, who took a more aggressive approach as her squad tried to win in regulation, notched three shots on goal and got off a backhanded laser that ricocheted off the crossbar and just inches in front of the goal line.

“We have a really good structure from behind,” Johnson said. “When I know we have people marked, I can step up and play more aggressive. I think as a whole, we started to do that.”

Despite Johnson’s near miss and Cuccio’s four saves in the final push, Duke eventually managed to sneak one by the Flames, scoring in the closing minute to clinch the win and give Liberty its first loss in nine games.

“I really did believe it was going to happen before regulation, and so I’m glad the kids just kept fighting,” Bustin said. “They were there for each other.”

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