CARY, N.C.—There is something about Georgia Tech that gives Duke fits.
The Yellow Jackets knocked the No. 23 Blue Devils out of the ACC tournament with a 4-3 win in Friday's quarterfinals at the Cary Tennis Park. Although Duke elevated its play midway through the match, it could not climb out of a hole created by a slow start.
The third-seeded Blue Devils have now lost four straight matches against Georgia Tech in the past three years. The sixth-seeded Yellow Jackets came to Durham and handed the squad its only home ACC loss of the season with another 4-3 victory March 29.
“I thought we were ready to go today,” Duke head coach Jamie Ashworth said. “I thought we were going to have a great match and a great tournament. It’s a much flatter match than we’ve played. That’s not what our team has been about the last couple of weeks.... We’ve struggled with [Georgia Tech] more than anybody over the last three years. Georgia Tech believes they can win when they go out on the court. They have some confidence having beaten us the first couple of times. They play free and don’t play without any pressure.”
The long day for Duke (16-9) began as soon as the squad took the court and allowed Georgia Tech (15-8) to easily capture the doubles point.
The Blue Devils—who entered the match rested after receiving a double-bye into the quarterfinals—surrendered their first doubles match when senior Ester Goldfeld and sophomore Alyssa Smith fell to the No. 16 pair of Kendal Woodard and Paige Hourigan 8-3.
The Yellow Jackets clinched the doubles point when Rasheeda McAdoo and Johnnise Renaud rolled by the No. 71 team of senior Annie Mulholland and sophomore Chalena Scholl 8-4. Mulholland and Scholl were within striking range until McAdoo and Renaud duo won the final three games of the match to hand the Duke pair its first loss of the season.
“Our doubles was awful,” Ashworth said. “No sugarcoating it, nothing, our doubles was terrible. I said to [assistant coach Mark Spicijaric] halfway through the doubles match, ‘We look like we haven’t practiced in a week.’ We’ve done such a good job over the last couple of weeks with our doubles, with those combinations, playing with energy and playing smart and we just came out so flat. In tournaments like this, you have to get the doubles point and get off the court. That was tough to recover from.”
Once the singles matches began, the Blue Devils began to look truer to form. But after several lead changes and ties, Duke did not have enough left in the tank to close out the win.
Georgia Tech earned their second point with Megan Kurey’s 6-4, 6-1 victory against Smith—who at one point led 3-1 early in the first set—at No. 6 singles.
“[In] singles, we got down early,” Ashworth said. “It was the same thing [as doubles].”
Scholl soon gave the Blue Devils momentum as she picked up steam against junior Natasha Prokhnevska. After falling in a 2-0 hole in the first set, the Pompano Beach, Fla., native rattled off six consecutive games and then cruised through the second set 6-2.
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At the No. 3 position, freshman Samantha Harris evened the team score for Duke with a 4-6, 6-1, 6-2, victory against Woodard. Down one set, No. 83 Harris set the tone for the rest of her match when she took the first three games of the second stanza.
The Yellow Jackets regained their lead when McAdoo downed senior Rachel Kahan 6-1, 6-2 on court four. Kahan could never gain a footing as she dropped the opening four games and trailed the entire match.
Once again, the Blue Devils answered the call.
Playing at No. 1 singles, the No. 89 Capra put Duke a win away from the tournament semifinals with her 7-5, 6-0 defeat of Renaud. After the first set stood even at 5-5, Capra seized control and won the last eight games of the match.
Georgia Tech finally claimed the win at the No. 2 position. Although No. 39 Goldfeld battled back to take the second set 6-3 once No. 53 Hourigan won the first set, the Brooklyn, N.Y., native was shut out in the deciding set as the Yellow Jackets clinched their spot in the semifinals.
“By the time we tried to pick it up, it was way too late,” Ashworth said. “We were playing catch-up the whole time and we just ran out of time. We played a little bit scared, it seemed like. Hopefully we learn from it and understand what we need to going into the NCAA tournament.”
With the loss, the Blue Devils' chances of hosting the initial rounds of the NCAA tournament are slim. Duke will have to wait until Tuesday to see its draw for the tournament, which begins May 8.