Two years to the day removed from a 1-0 victory against the Gators at Koskinen Stadium, the Blue Devils outlasted Florida once again, this time on the Gators’ home pitch.
Thanks to goals from junior defender Rebecca Quinn and freshman attacker Taylor Racioppi, third-seeded Duke orchestrated an impressive comeback to defeated second-seeded Florida 2-1 Sunday afternoon at Donald R. Dizney Stadium in Gainesville, Fla., in the third round of the NCAA tournament. A year after being left out of postseason action altogether, the Blue Devils’ victory against the Gators earned Duke a trip to the Elite Eight for the sixth time in the last decade.
“I thought we were really, really good offensively. We moved the ball well. We attacked at speed,” head coach Robbie Church said in Duke’s postgame press conference. “[We scored] two great goals, especially the game-winning one. I thought we defended really well. Obviously we kind of went a little bit on the defensive side at the last 15 minutes or so. I thought E.J. [Proctor] was just tremendous. She has been all year in the goal. We’re very, very proud and we’re very fortunate to be moving on.”
Although Racioppi, classmate Kayla McCoy and sophomore Ashton Miller had the first scoring attempts of the contest, it was the Gators (19-4-1) who took the lead in the 21st minute when freshman Sarah Troccoli broke the scoreless draw with a header from three yards out.
But the Blue Devils (13-5-4) evened the contest just nine minutes later off of a set piece.
In the 29th minute, sophomore Casey Martinez took a corner kick that was deflected by a Florida defender. The bouncing ball found junior captain Christina Gibbons who put a curling cross inside the small box from 25 yards out. Quinn scored the equalizer and her third goal of the season with a slight header that Florida goalkeeper Kaylan Marckese could not turn away.
“It was difficult coming off of last season not making the tournament, but I think what was different from this year is just having that true belief that we can win this tournament and that we’re a good enough team,” Quinn said during Duke’s press conference. “Maybe we haven’t gotten exactly the results we wanted throughout the regular season with some games, but we know that we can show up for huge games and we’ve shown that throughout the season.”
The Blue Devils headed to the locker room with an 8-2 advantage in shots taken, but that was not reflected on the scoreboard, as the sides remained tied 1-1 following Quinn’s score. Just after intermission, each team had two scoring opportunities but could not find enough space to convert.
And then Racioppi broke through.
The freshman from Ocean Township, N.J., notched what turned out to be the game-winner for Duke in the 55th minute with a right-footed first touch, finishing an inviting cross from Martinez and an assist from McCoy. It was Racioppi’s seventh goal of the season and third in the Blue Devils’ last four contests.
Duke’s defense stepped up and made sure the advantage held up for the rest of the game as Proctor and the Blue Devil defenders only allowed two shots from forward Savannah Jordan—who entered the match with 24 goals, the second-most in the nation.
“We had talked a lot about getting numbers in the box and really pressing into them,” Racioppi said. “I just happened to be in the right spot at the right time, and put it in the back of the net. It was a great ball and a great deflection, [I was] just pretty lucky. It came across pretty quick, so I barely reacted on it.”
In a rematch of the 2011 NCAA tournament final, the Blue Devils will travel to California to visit top-seeded Stanford Friday evening looking to capture a berth in the Final Four, which will be played Dec. 4-6 in Duke’s backyard of Cary, N.C.
“Obviously with our seed, we understand we have to travel,” Church said. “We do that in the regular season. I think we’re a very good team on the road. We’ve proven that game-in and game-out with big games on road. We’re very confident we can play anybody now if it’s at our place or now it looks like we’re going to California. Not a bad place for Thanksgiving, so we’ll head that way.”