It was nothing but heartbreak for the Blue Devils Saturday at Arlotta Stadium, the product of self-inflicted wounds that left behind a bitter taste.
No. 13 Duke held a 9-7 lead with three minutes remaining in regulation but surrendered back-to-back tallies to No. 10 Notre Dame as the hosts took the game into overtime. Once in the extra session, Fighting Irish attack Rachel Sexton capitalized on a costly Duke turnover and beat Blue Devil goalkeeper Kelsey Duryea to clinch the 10-9 win for her team on Senior Day in South Bend, Ind.
“It’s just a shame. This was an unbelievable opportunity,” Duke head coach Kerstin Kimel told GoDuke.com. “We had Notre Dame on the ropes with three minutes left. We beat ourselves today.”
Fresh off a home win against then No. 11 Boston College on their own Senior Day, the Blue Devils (9-6, 4-2 in the ACC) put themselves in position to spoil the afternoon for Notre Dame (11-4, 4-3), but instead wound up saddled with their second loss in conference play.
Duke pulled ahead out of the gates with midfielder Maddie Crutchfield recording the first score of the day, followed by a goal from senior attack Kelci Smesko just more than three minutes later. Crutchfield and Smesko—the Blue Devils' second and third leading scorers with a combined 58 goals—each found the net again in the first half, but were held scoreless the rest of the afternoon.
After being face-guarded by Syracuse and Boston College, leading scorer Kyra Harney added two goals, bringing her to 40 goals for the season and 100 points for her career. The sophomore becomes just the 25th player in program history to reach the century mark and joins Smesko as the only active players in the elite group.
But the milestones meant little on the scoreboard, as the Fighting Irish offense—ranked third in the nation and first in the conference in scoring—battled back from the 6-3 halftime deficit and outscored the Blue Devils 7-3 to close the game, attempting 34 shots to Duke's 21 for the game.
Sexton and junior attack Cortney Fortunato—the league leader with 4.9 points and 1.8 assists per game—each recorded a hat trick to lead Notre Dame. Led by head coach Christine Halfpenny—Kimel’s former assistant—the Fighting Irish benefitted from a veteran attack that never panicked, returning 10 of its top 11 offensive threats from last season.
On the other end of the field, the young Duke offense struggled to find opportunities on goal in the second half and committed eight critical turnovers. The giveaways were a cause for concern entering the day—Notre Dame forces the most turnovers in the nation at 14.7 per game—and the Blue Devils succumbed to the defensive pressure 17 times, including on the possession leading to Sexton's game-winner.
“Our offense was really inefficient. We turned the ball over way too much and you cannot do that against a top-10 team,” Kimel said. “It was foolish turnovers and we didn’t shoot well in the second half.”
Despite the lack of offensive production, Duryea and the Blue Devil defense kept the game competitive in the second half. Duryea recorded seven saves in the second period and 13 overall, the sixth time this season she has posted double-digit saves.
“Our defense played unbelievably,” Kimel said. “It was really disappointing given that I thought even though we weren’t great in the second half, we were in a position to win the game and we didn’t close it.”
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The Blue Devils will have the week off from competition before heading down Tobacco Road Saturday to close out the regular season, taking on No. 3 North Carolina at 2 p.m. at Fetzer Field in Chapel Hill.