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Bracale game-winner sends Duke field hockey to win at No. 6 Louisville, best start in program history

<p>Alyssa Chillano (right) scored early in Friday's game to give the visiting Blue Devils a 1-0 lead.</p>

Alyssa Chillano (right) scored early in Friday's game to give the visiting Blue Devils a 1-0 lead.

In a battle between two undefeated conference foes, the outcome was in doubt until the game's waning moments.

But the Blue Devils came through in the clutch en route to their best start in program history.

No. 2 Duke knocked off No. 6 Louisville 2-1 at Trager Stadium in Louisville, Ky., Friday evening thanks to a late goal from senior midfielder Hunter Bracale. In their fifth matchup against a top-20 opponent in seven games, the Blue Devils managed to stay perfect despite being outshot and having fewer penalty corners.

For the first time ever, Duke is 7-0 to start a season. 

“To have come this far against such great opponents means a lot,” Blue Devil head coach Pam Bustin told GoDuke.com. “We just have to keep learning from it. I wouldn’t say that was our best game tonight. It really wasn’t. But we were able, from our past experiences, to really dig in and keep our heads cool and come out when we had the opportunity to keep fighting."

Although they might not have been perfect, the Blue Devils wasted little time grabbing momentum in Friday's matchup of undefeated teams. Less than seven minutes into the game, junior defender Alyssa Chillano spotted Duke (7-0, 2-0 in the ACC) a 1-0 lead off of a penalty corner. The tally marked the Phoenixville, Pa., native’s sixth goal of the season, as well as her fourth consecutive game with a point.

On the same play, freshman midfielder Margaux Paolino picked up her nation-leading ninth assist of the season, adding to an impressive start to her career. 

But for the rest of the opening period, the Blue Devils found out why the Cardinals (6-1, 0-1) entered the game having outscored opponents 28-3.

Louisville peppered Duke goalkeeper Sammi Steele with five shots—many coming from three penalty corners —before halftime. The sophomore netminder rose to the occasion, however, coming up with four saves to keep the Blue Devils ahead entering the locker room. 

“Sammi was just solid,” Bustin said. “She was real steady, real solid, just did her job and kept us in and gave us the opportunity to win the game. That’s all you can ask for from your goalkeeper.”

After halftime, it was Cardinal goalkeeper Ayeisha McFerran's turn to come up with a few clutch saves of her own. But the sophomore—who entered Friday with the top save percentage in the nation—was up for the challenge, matching Steele and giving Louisville a chance to equalize.

The Cardinals took advantage of that opportunity in the 52nd minute, when Taylor Stone tied the game off a penalty corner to set the stage for a wild finish. 

In a physical game that had 10 total penalty corners, Duke capitalized on one of its last chances. In the 62nd minute, Blue Devil freshman midfielder Haley Schleicher received the pass from the corner at the top of the circle and fired a shot toward the cage. 

Although a Louisville defender deflected the shot, the ball found Bracale, who was in the right place at the right time to slot the game-winner past McFerran with just fewer than seven minutes of regulation remaining and notch her first goal of the season.

"Our defense did a great job holding out a great Louisville attack, and our attack just kept taking their chances and going at it and didn’t panic," Bustin said. "They just stayed in it until the opportunity came.”

After its third one-goal win of the season, Duke will look to match the longest winning streak in program history Sunday. The Blue Devils will make the short trip from Kentucky to take on Miami (Ohio) a week before a showdown at No. 3 North Carolina. 

Duke will try to keep its offense rolling Sunday against the RedHawks, as the Blue Devils have now scored multiple goals in four straight games.

“We came out and played really well,” Bustin told GoDuke.com. “We’d been putting on some great pressure early in the game and I think it was important to have that opportunity to execute the corner.”

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