CHAPEL HILL—After an early exit from the ACC tournament, the Blue Devils survived and advanced on the road to a repeat trip to the Final Four.
No. 9 Duke proved that it was deserving of an NCAA tournament bid Saturday afternoon with a 2-1 win over Northwestern at Francis E. Henry Stadium. The Blue Devils outshot the Big Ten champions 19-6 on the day, and will take on rival North Carolina Sunday at 2 p.m. for a chance to advance to the Final Four next weekend.
Duke started out strong with a pair of shots by freshman forward Ashley Kristen and junior midfielder Aileen Johnson within the first minute, but Northwestern goalkeeper Maddy Carpenter was able to stop both attempts.
Kristen led the attack for Duke in the next few minutes with two shots on goal, and the Blue Devils were awarded four penalty corners. The onslaught of shots launched by the Blue Devils in the first half finally paid dividends in the 25th minute on a goal by senior Jessica Buttinger. The forward capitalized on a fast break by pressuring the goalkeeper to come forward and then converting a spinning shot, with her back to the cage, to give the Blue Devils a 1-0 lead on an unassisted goal.
“[Buttinger] played great,” head coach Pam Bustin said. “The whole forward line really worked well together—we did some interchanging, and we created a lot of opportunities.”
Freshman midifelder Alyssa Chillano added another goal for the Blue Devils (13-6) in the final minute of the half. Chillano, assisted by Johnson, scored on a designed penalty corner play to extend the lead, and the Blue Devils entered the half with a 17-1 advantage in shots.
“We came out on fire, and I thought it was some of the best hockey we’ve played all year in how we moved the ball and how we played together," Bustin said. "We knew that Northwestern was going to try to change it up and be a little more aggressive second half, and it definitely affected our vibe coming out.”
Duke controlled possession for the start of the second half, but the Wildcats were able to get on the board. Northwestern (16-7) junior midfielder Lisa McCarthy scored an unassisted goal in the 48th minute to cut the Blue Devil lead in half, slapping the ball into Duke’s net off the rebound from a penalty corner attempt saved by a diving Lauren Blazing in net.
But after surrendering the goal to McCarthy, the Blue Devils adjusted to the Wildcats’ pace, and did not allow Northwestern to score again.
“We were happy with our performance in the first half, but, in the second half, we had a lot more lapses in our play,” Buttinger said. “We still stuck it to them, though.”
Northwestern had a plethora of attempts on goal in the remaining 22 minutes, but Duke’s defense held strong. Blazing made four saves—including a full-extension diving stop with six minutes remaining—and the Blue Devils played stout defense.
“It turned out that we had to play a more defensive-minded game. It wasn’t the plan, but it’s what we had to do, and we were able to adapt, and stay with it,” Bustin said. “We played well defensively, but we needed to be better on [outlet passing].”
With five minutes remaining, the Wildcats pulled their goalkeeper in a last-gasp effort to tie the game, but were unable to score, as the Blue Devils held on for a one-goal victory.
Despite losing four of its final eight contests, Duke did what it needed to Saturday: survive and advance.
“With all the opportunities we had, I would have liked to see some more goals,” Bustin said. "But we stuck with it and we stayed on it, and we had just enough to [come out with a win].”
Duke will return to Francis E. Henry Stadium to take on top-seed North Carolina Sunday, with the winner moving on to next weekend’s NCAA semifinals in College Park, Md. The Blue Devils are 0-2 against the Tar Heels this season, having lost once in Durham during the regular season and once during the ACC tournament.
“There’s always a personal element to the game when you’re playing UNC,” Buttinger said. “But it’s tournament time, and honestly I don’t care who we’re playing. We’re going to take our game at them, and attack them.”
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Jacob Weiss is a Trinity senior. His column, "not jumping to any conclusions," runs on alternate Fridays.