After a lopsided 4-2 loss against then-No. 9 Virginia Tech Sunday, Duke head coach Robbie Church said that his team needed a morale-boosting win to break through and turn around its winless start to ACC play.
Thanks to a second-half goal from freshman forward Kayla McCoy, Duke got its confidence back with a 1-0 win against Miami at Cobb Stadium Thursday night. The narrow victory against the Hurricanes snapped a four-game winless stretch for the Blue Devils and reinvigorates their hopes of returning to the NCAA championship this season after being left out of the postseason field a year ago.
“I’m so proud of how the players approached the game. They put a lot of energy into it and they did a great job at preparation," Church said. "We were very aggressive out there offensively and defensively. We needed that win to boost our confidence.”
The Blue Devils (7-4-3, 1-2-2 in the ACC) found the back of the net in the 54th minute. Sophomore Imani Dorsey put an inviting cross inside the small box and McCoy notched her second game-winning goal of the season after challenging a Hurricane defender for the ball.
The Hurricanes (4-8-0, 1-4-0) outshot the Blue Devils 6-5 in the opening period, but Duke had better scoring opportunities. Redshirt sophomore midfielder Cassie Pecht and junior forward Toni Payne—who led the attack with five shots—registered the first two opportunities to break the deadlock, but Miami’s defense turned their attempts away. The Hurricanes responded in the 15th minute as Ava Ambrose powered a shot that flew above the crossbar.
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Eight minutes later, Payne fired from inside the box, but goalkeeper Catalina Perez—who was selected as the ACC Defensive Player of the Week Tuesday—delivered the first of her career-high seven saves to preserve the scoreless draw.
On the other end of the pitch, Duke goalkeeper E.J. Proctor posted two important saves in the first half. Sophomore Ashton Miller and freshman Taylor Racioppi had looks to grab the lead for the Blue Devils, but Duke and Miami headed to the locker room with nothing to show for their efforts.
“We really came out really early in attack,” Church said. “We didn’t get anything out of it but we really attacked well. And we defended better than we have in the last three or four games. We were doubling down and giving ourselves defensive numbers well.”
The Blue Devils—who entered Thursday’s game averaging 20.2 shots and 1.8 goals per contest—outshot the Hurricanes 11-3 in the closing period and found the goal they had been seeking after a few attempts to beat Perez.
Before McCoy netted the only goal of the game and her sixth of the season, Miller sent a shot careening off the woodwork three minutes into the second half and Dorsey had another chance that Perez snuffed out.
With the 1-0 lead, Duke tried to manufacture more clear sights on goal but Perez dealt with two shots from Payne. Dorsey and Racioppi also put a shot on frame each but the Hurricane goalkeeper pulled off a save in each case.
Proctor prevented Miami from tying the contest in the last five minutes, as the Wilson, N.C., native blocked attempts from Amy Schmidt and Gianna Dal Pozzo. Duke registered its eighth shutout of the season against the Hurricanes, the most by a Blue Devil team since 2011—when Church’s squad collected 16 shutouts and played in the NCAA Championship final.
“The key thing [for the next games] is that we cannot be satisfied,” Church said. “We have to continue to be hungry. We need to get another three points, another win to move down the line here. We’ve got to be consistent. We’ve got to do this every game when we come out. Something that is important for us is not to play one really good game and then play an average game.”
The Blue Devils will battle Louisville at Dr. Mark & Cindy Lynn Soccer Stadium Sunday at 1 p.m. before visiting their Tobacco Road foe—top-ranked North Carolina—Oct. 16 at 7 p.m.