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Duke field hockey uses toughness, depth to shut out Louisville for first ACC win

<p>The Blue Devils jumped out to an early lead and never looked back in their first shutout win of the season against No. 9 Louisville Friday.</p>

The Blue Devils jumped out to an early lead and never looked back in their first shutout win of the season against No. 9 Louisville Friday.

It's going to take more than a hurricane to cool down Duke.

On a night when heavy rain limited the offensive chances for both teams, the No. 5 Blue Devils relied on their depth and toughness to outlast No. 9 Louisville 2-0 and capture their first ACC win of the season Friday at Jack Katz Stadium. Juniors Hunter Bracale and Robin Blazing each tallied scores and redshirt senior goalkeeper Lauren Blazing notched three saves to guide Duke to its first shutout victory of the season.

“I’m really proud of how our girls hung in there and how they were able to take care of the ball and keep it a well-played game,” Duke head coach Pam Bustin said. “We play teams who are super talented. They’re competitors, and we have to expect that no matter what. We have to…lock into the competitor [mindset] and bring it together as a team.”

The Blue Devils (7-3, 1-2 in the ACC) were locked into the Cardinals from the first possession Friday, capitalizing on an early miscue by the Louisville defense to grab the advantage.

Bracale slipped behind several Cardinal defenders in the fourth minute and redirected a well-timed pass from junior Heather Morris into the cage. Louisville (6-4, 0-3) immediately responded with an attack of its own, but the Blue Devil defenders held strong protecting their circle and limited the Cardinals' opportunities by causing turnovers in the open field.

Duke’s lighting-fast start paid dividends for the team later in the game as weather conditions gradually worsened and offensive progress nearly slowed to a grinding halt.  Dropping temperatures and soaking rains sapped players’ strength and turned the game into a gritty defensive battle.

But the weather did little to cool down the Blue Devils, who had endured similar conditions in practice throughout the prior week.

“Honestly, this weather, we’ve been living in it for a week and a half,” Bustin said. “We don’t even notice it anymore. I was more worried that it would be sunny today because we’ve become so accustomed to the rain.”

Duke began to pull away from Louisville in the second half as both the weather and the Blue Devils began to wear down the Cardinals' defense. The Blue Devils held a distinct advantage in the second half, outshooting Louisville 6-4 in final 35 minutes, earning higher quality shots than the Cardinals and converting one of those shots into a second score.

The critical insurance goal came in the 49th minute when Morris split two defenders and charged inside the scoring circle with a clear path to the net. With Louisville goaltender Ayeisha McFerran diving forward to block the Pottstown, Pa., native’s shot, Morris dished the ball to Robin Blazing at the post, who rocketed it straight into the back of the net.

“Our thing is endurance,” Blazing said. “We can keep it up longer than they do, and tonight that’s what we did. We kept it up for longer than they did and ultimately wore them down.”

Depth was a critical factor for Duke against the Cardinals, as it has been for the Blue Devils all season long. Bustin changed the look of her team with a steady stream of substitutions, helping her players combat the elements by giving them short spurts of rest.

Eight different Duke players registered shots Friday, with different 17 players receiving playing time. The Blue Devils' versatility on offense kept Louisville off-balance and created the scoring chances that gave Bustin's squad breathing room down the stretch to guarantee the victory.  

“We [mix up lineups] in practice all the time,” Blazing said. “We make sure we get reps with everyone out there. It’s better for more people to see the field because everyone has something to contribute.”

The Blue Devils will go for their fourth straight win Sunday when they take on Longwood at 2 p.m. at Jack Katz Stadium.

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