With the Hokies coming to Durham with a lot on the line, it is hunting season for the Blue Devils.
Duke hosts Virginia Tech Friday at 7 p.m. in Koskinen Stadium on Senior Night. The regular season finale holds plenty of ramifications for both teams—the Blue Devils have one more chance to strengthen their NCAA tournament resume and improve their lot heading into the ACC tournament, and the Hokies are fighting for their postseason lives.
“Tomorrow night will be huge for us,” Duke head coach John Kerr said. “It is [the Hokies] last chance to qualify for the ACC tournament, so they want to come out and win the game.”
The Blue Devils (9-6-2, 2-4-1 in the ACC) enter the match riding a wave of momentum, coming off an overtime win against Jacksonville Tuesday night. Sophomore Brian White scored the game-winner with a header 3:20 into the first overtime to lead Duke to a 1-0 win.
Thanks to White's heroics, the Blue Devils are winners of four straight and are looking to make it five Friday. Although Kerr's squad clinched its spot in the ACC tournament with a 1-0 win against Pittsburgh Oct. 24, they could put themselves in the good graces of the NCAA tournament selection committee with a win against the Hokies (5-8-3, 0-4-3).
NCAA tournament talk this late in the season is surprising after Duke hit a mid-season lull. The Blue Devils have posted a 5-2 record after losing six straight in the middle of the season and are looking to capitalize on their late-season momentum.
“We are on bit of a run right now with four wins a row,” Kerr said. “The positive thing for us is having another shutout [Tuesday], especially going into the last game of the season.”
The Blue Devil defense has been stout as of late, with sophomore center back Marcus Fjørtoft leading the way. The Asker, Norway, native has played in all but 62 minutes and has started all 36 games of his career. After injuries to starting back line mates Kevon Black and Carter Manley, freshman Oliver Spring helped the Blue Devils post two 1-0 shutouts in a row.
Duke will need this defensive depth against the Hokies, who will come to Durham seeking goals and with nothing to lose.
“[The Hokies] are better than their record and they are better than their RPI,” Kerr said. “They will be hungry tomorrow because this is their only chance to get into the ACC tournament.”
Virginia Tech is looking to break a three-match losing streak and a six-game winless skid, and a win Friday would also give them a berth into into the ACC tournament. Head coach Michael Brizendine’s squad is led on offense by sophomore Merlin Baus, with 15 points, and sophomore Ben Lundgaard stands guard in goal. Lundgaard, who hails from Greenville, Del., leads the ACC in saves per game with 3.8 and overall saves with 60.
The Hokies have scored two goals in their past six outings, so Baus and company will need to shoulder the load if Virginia Tech is to get anything going against the Duke back line.
A win Friday would be another step toward erasing the disappointment of last season, when the Blue Devils were bounced in the ACC quarterfinals and did not make it to the NCAA tournament. Duke's eight seniors and graduate students will play at Koskinen Stadium for the last time in the regular season, but can earn another home match in the opening round of the ACC tournament.
“They are relishing in [the pressure],” Kerr said. “They appreciate the hard work that has been put in through the last few weeks of the season. We don’t want to take our foot off the pedal, we want to keep it up and keep moving forward.”
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