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Duke field hockey falls to North Carolina in quarterfinals of NCAA tournament

Redshirt junior Lauren Blazing tallied a season-high 13 saves against North Carolina.
Redshirt junior Lauren Blazing tallied a season-high 13 saves against North Carolina.

Facing weather as stingy as the Tar Heel defense, Duke fell to North Carolina for the third time this season, ending its NCAA tournament run in the quarterfinals.

After beating Northwestern 2-1 in the first round, the Blue Devils were shutout for only the second time this season in a 3-0 Tar Heel victory. Duke has now lost 12 of the past 13 matchups in the Tobacco Road rivalry.

"[Our defense] got some good pressure from the No. 1 team in the country today and really challenged us,” Duke head coach Pam Bustin said. “If you’re not that experienced on how to handle [fatigue], a good team like North Carolina will find it, and that’s exactly what they did today.”

In the first 10 minutes, it appeared that Duke (13-7) would be the one to open the floodgates. A team with 22 first half goals this season—compared to just 12 in the second half—the Blue Devils quickly found home in Chapel Hill, earning two penalties and controlling possession to start the game. However, when Duke gave that momentum away, it was out the window and into the bitter autumn breeze for good.

The Tar Heels (19-3) tested Duke goalie Lauren Blazing—the ACC’s leader in save percentage at .780—but she stood her ground and downed incoming missiles. Blazing finished the game with 13 saves, her highest total of the season.

Still, North Carolina was relentless offensively and would not be denied a goal on its fifth penalty of the half. The Tar Heels' Loren Shealy launched an uncontested laser from the right side of the circle, which Blazing kept in front of her—only for Shealy to clean up the crumbs and strike a dinger behind Duke’s leftward-leaping goalkeeper. With 3:50 left in the first half, No. 1 North Carolina led 1-0.

Returning from the locker room, Duke opened with numerous shots, including a rocket from sophomore Heather Morris that sailed high. The Blue Devils, however, struggled to get open looks in the circle, resulting in the Tar Heel defense’s seventh shutout this season.

North Carolina—which outshot Duke 12-5 in the second half and 23-7 overall—dealt Duke another blow with 14 minutes left starting with a Nina Notman clear to forward Casey Di Nardo. Di Nardo then broke by Blue Devil midfielder Alyssa Chillano and drew in Duke’s lone defender. She dribbled down the right side of the box and took a shot that the wide-open Emma Bozek rebounded past Blazing for a 2-0 lead.

The Tar Heels furthered their command with four minutes left, as Bozek and Emily Wold traversed through Duke’s defense with a beautiful give-and-go that all but decided the Blue Devils' fate.

“When you have two players coming at you, you basically have to make a decision and I made a decision, and they exploited the decision I made,” Blazing said.

With the win, North Carolina will travel to College Park, Md. to face fellow ACC foe Syracuse Friday afternoon. North Carolina beat the Orange 3-0 in September, only for Syracuse to respond with a 3-2 overtime victory in the ACC semifinals.

Duke, on the other hand, must turn to its core of underclassmen as it looks to the future. With seven freshman returning and only three seniors leaving, the Blue Devils will have to wait another year to return to their 2013 form, when they reached the national championship game.

"Every team goes through some adversity, but to do it again with the youth we have and some of the inexperience, it’s awesome that we’re even sitting here today,” Bustin said. “We’re looking forward to the future, and this experience that our seniors led us to is only going to help the future of Duke field hockey.”

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