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Duke field hockey overcomes early deficit to stay perfect against No. 11 Virginia

<p>Ainsley Gill and the Blue Devils generated a season-high 10 penalty corners Friday evening.</p>

Ainsley Gill and the Blue Devils generated a season-high 10 penalty corners Friday evening.

Down early against a top-20 opponent for the second straight game, Duke could have folded under pressure. 

Instead, the Blue Devils rallied to earn their first conference victory of the season and remain undefeated. 

No. 2 Duke knocked off No. 11 Virginia in a 3-2 nail-biter Friday evening at Jack Katz Stadium. After falling behind just nine minutes into the game, the Blue Devils relied on another strong outing from sophomore goalkeeper Sammi Steele and a season-high 10 penalty corners to notch their fourth consecutive victory against a ranked opponent.

“We expect anything,“ Duke head coach Pam Bustin said. “The competition as we head into the conference is really tight and really strong, so we just have to stay in the game. You have 70 minutes to play so not to judge it one way or the other—whether we’re up by a goal or down by a goal, we stay on with the game plan and stay on task.”

The Blue Devils (5-0, 1-0 in the ACC) had an opportunity to strike early in the game but a diving save by Cavalier goalkeeper Carrera Lucas kept the home team off the board.

Turning Lucas' save into offense, Virginia (2-3, 0-1) then moved forward, drawing a foul near Duke's goal. The Cavaliers took advantage on the ensuing penalty corner when midfielder Lucy Hyams slotted a rebounded shot past Steele for the game’s first tally.

For the next 16 minutes, both teams committed a string of fouls and sloppy passes before the Blue Devils finally began to find their offensive rhythm and evened the match. 

With freshman Margaux Paolino and graduate student Aisling Naughton guiding the midfield, Duke drove toward the Virginia goal to earn a penalty corner. Junior forward Ashley Kristen then received a pass from Paolino from the corner and found the back of the cage with a shot that managed to just drift by Lucas.

The Blue Devils controlled the pace after the slow start, generating 20 shots in addition to their 10 penalty corners.

“We want to attack from the back all the way through forward," Bustin said. “Virginia put some great pressure on our backfield today and I thought that the team did a great job attacking out of the back. That set the tone and kept everybody involved from the attack all the way down to the other end of the field.“

Steele and the Duke defense made sure it would not fall behind again after the first-half equalizer, making several key stops to keep the score level. The Blue Devils conceded just eight shots, six of which were on goal. 

Junior defenders Sarah Furey and Alyssa Chillano led a backline that also limited the Cavaliers—who totaled 48 shots against their two previous opponents—to three penalty corners.

“Sammi Steele played a great game. we kept their two key players [Hyams] and [Tara Vittese] pretty quiet tonight," Furey said. 

Chillano also contributed offensively when she gave Duke its first lead of the game on another penalty corner. In the 45th minute, the Phoenixville, Pa., native received a pass from Paolino and knocked a hard shot into the bottom right corner of the net for her team-leading fifth goal of the season. Paolino leads the Blue Devils with eight assists on the year.

Just four minutes later, junior defender Stephanie Pezzuti added an insurance goal, tapping a shot into the back post off a rebound following yet another penalty corner. 

The Cavaliers were not done, however.

In the 50th minute, Virginia began to mount a comeback when Vittese—the 2015 National Player of the Year—launched an unchecked shot past Steele off a corner play to cut Duke's lead to one goal. 

For the remaining 20 minutes of regulation, the Blue Devils and Cavaliers continued their physical play as Virginia pushed for a game-tying goal, only to have the Duke defense weather the storm to secure the victory.

The Blue Devils will look to remain unbeaten after the dramatic win Sunday when they host James Madison at 1 p.m.. 

“Duke true is what we tried to keep to," Furey said. “We just kept to ourselves and didn’t really worry about what [Virginia] was doing, and we knew that we would come out of those last 20 minutes on top."

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