On Friday, the Blue Devils dominated No. 8 North Carolina but could not score on any of their 30 shot attempts.
Duke took 21 fewer shots Sunday against No. 9 Minnesota—but nine turned out to be enough.
Freshman Ella Stevens scored in the 32nd minute to send the No. 7 Blue Devils to a 1-0 victory against the Golden Gophers in the finale of the Duke Nike Classic Sunday afternoon at Koskinen Stadium, the team’s first win against a ranked opponent this season. Minnesota outshot Duke 12-9 and held a 5-2 edge in corner kicks, but the Blue Devil defense preserved the early lead to extend its shutout streak to three games.
“You just kind of have to gut games out,” Duke head coach Robbie Church said. “[We’re] a little disappointed obviously with the tie on Friday, so to come back and get this win was huge.”
Stevens’ goal came after sophomore Chelsea Burns threw the ball in to senior Christina Gibbons near the left sideline, where the co-captain recorded her two assists against Coastal Carolina Aug. 28. Gibbons then sent a cross to the near post, which Stevens deflected into the bottom left corner of the net.
“Going down the wing has been so dangerous,” Stevens said. “It’s hard, it spreads them out, and we’re able to get in and finish any balls that they give us.... We just kept saying it was going to come. The goals will come, and they did.”
The first half was a back-and-forth affair, with Duke (4-1-1) outshooting the Golden Gophers 8-5 but with Minnesota (5-1-0) taking four corners to the Blue Devils’ two. Minnesota’s best chance came in the 11th minute, when Molly Fiedler got an open look at the top of the box and fired a low shot at Duke goalkeeper E.J. Proctor.
But the Blue Devil junior fully extended, diving to her left to make the save. Proctor has not allowed a goal in her last 331 minutes of game action.
“I knew E.J. had to make one great save,” Church said. “When’s she’s in a rhythm and everyone starts to feel better behind us, we start to say, ‘Okay, if we make a mistake, then she’s going to be back there to clean things up.’”
After playing 110 minutes against the Tar Heels, Church tapped into his bench with 17 substitutions throughout the match. Stevens—who scored the third goal of her career—was not even a starter in the game and entered in the 24th minute with Duke coming out in a 4-2-3-1 formation.
Despite the frequent substitutions, the Blue Devils struggled to generate more scoring opportunities after Stevens’ tally. Duke was caught offsides five times, and its lone forward at the top of the formation, Kayla McCoy, struggled to generate offensive chances with several defenders marking her. At times, even when McCoy got the ball, the sophomore did not have midfield support.
“We mismatched lineups, we put people in some places they haven’t been all year, actually hadn’t trained all year,” Church said. “We put Mia [Gyau] as a wide player on midfield…. [we put] Ella in the middle of the field because she’s so tricky around the goal.”
Minnesota sent more players forward in the last 10 minutes of the game, threatening the Blue Devils the same way they controlled stretches against recent opponents. The Golden Gophers outshot Duke 7-1 in the second half but were often forced to fire from long range.
The Blue Devils will attempt to keep their home shutout streak going Friday evening against No. 4 West Virginia before taking on High Point Sunday. Six games into the season, Duke has most of its key players healthy, though junior defender Schuyler DeBree missed the second half against Minnesota with a quad injury.
Luckily for the Blue Devils, they can go 19 deep if necessary, as they did Sunday.
“Our team has so many players that can come in off the bench and give us the fresh legs we need—the level doesn’t drop,” Stevens said.
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