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Duke field hockey falls to No. 12 Wake Forest in home opener

<p>Junior Hunter Bracale brought the Blue Devils within one score late in the second half, but it was not enough as Duke fell 2-1 to No. 12 Wake Forest in its home opener Friday.</p>

Junior Hunter Bracale brought the Blue Devils within one score late in the second half, but it was not enough as Duke fell 2-1 to No. 12 Wake Forest in its home opener Friday.

Devils versus Demons.

It's not the title of the next young-adult fiction best-seller, but a yearly matchup between some of the best teams in the ACC. And this year, it's a game Duke would rather soon forget.

Hampered by a sluggish first half, the No. 4 Blue Devils fell 2-1 to No. 12 Wake Forest in a lackluster home opener Friday at Jack Katz Stadium. The loss marked the first game this season in which Duke has trailed, as the Demon Deacons took advantage of the Blue Devils' seven ceded penalty corners to build a two-goal lead midway through the second half.

Junior Hunter Bracale rallied her team in the 63rd minute with a goal assisted by sophomore Ashley Kristen, but Duke’s final push toward the net fell short, leaving the Blue Devils to walk away from their home debut with a loss and plenty of disappointment.

“We just came out really flat and I’m disappointed in that,” Duke head coach Pam Bustin said. “With it being the home opener, the energy was high but our focus was a little scattered.”

After putting forth two high-quality efforts against Big Ten teams last weekend, Duke (3-2, 0-1 in the ACC) was left scrambling to match Wake Forest’s speed for much of the first 60 minutes Friday. On offense, the Blue Devils struggled to penetrate the scoring circle and ran into a wall against Demon Deacon goaltender Valerie Dahmen, who notched eight saves on the night.

On defense, Duke could not make the key stops that shaped the outcome of the game. The Blue Devils allowed Wake Forest (4-1, 1-0 in the ACC) to convert on two penalty corners—set pieces the Blue Devils had prepared for—which enabled the Demon Deacons to edge out the Blue Devils despite being outshot 14-9.

“We’re really disappointed in the defensive’s fortitude around the circle,” Bustin said. “It’s not characteristic of us to allow seven corners or allow two to score. We were prepared for them, and we just didn’t execute in our preparation.”

Normally, road games tend to throw off players’ routines, but Friday’s home opener might have been an extra challenge for Bustin’s squad to prepare for because of its timing right after a full day of school.

When the team travels for weekend road trips, players are afforded the convenience of being surrounded by their teammates around the clock. Players can focus on preparing for their games and nothing else.

But back on campus, it is more difficult to separate class time and game time. Bustin said she believed her team’s lack of focus could have been a result of sitting through a full day of class before suiting up to play.

“[Playing games after a full day of school] is something that we have to get used to,” Bustin said. “We have been on the road and been with each other for two weeks now, so that’s something that we’re addressing and that’s something we have to get better at.”

Duke did eventually find itself and mount a rally in the final minutes of regulation. Bracale's fast-rising shot in the 63rd minute spurred the Blue Devils to compete until the final buzzer, but Wake Forest’s defense refused to give an inch and Duke was limited to a low-quality shot that sailed wide right of the goal on its final possession.

With the Blue Devils’ response coming a little to late to make a difference against the Demon Deacons, the focus now shifts toward turning Friday’s loss into a learning experience.

“The most important thing moving forward is knowing that we’re better than [how we played today],” Bustin said. “We need to get our preparation to a point where we can open up a game with the level of hockey that we want to play. It’s not complicated. It’s making sure that our basic skills are solid and we’re connecting as a team.”

The Blue Devils have a short practice Saturday to regroup and reload before returning to Jack Katz Stadium for a 1 p.m. Sunday game against William & Mary (3-2).

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