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No. 4 West Virginia deals Duke women's soccer 3-1 setback Friday evening

<p>Junior Ashton Miller scored the Blue Devils' only goal Friday evening.</p>

Junior Ashton Miller scored the Blue Devils' only goal Friday evening.

After an early-season loss to Arkansas and a tie against then-No. 8 North Carolina, the Blue Devils entered Friday night’s game against a fellow national title contender looking to show why many consider them one of the best teams in program history. 

But without one of its senior leaders, Duke never found its footing.

No. 4 West Virginia upended the No. 6 Blue Devils 3-1 at Koskinen Stadium Friday evening after outshooting Duke 16-8 and controlling the pace for most of the game. Mountaineer junior Michaela Abam scored twice for the visitors with a goal from 40 yards out and a late penalty kick following a controversial penalty call on Blue Devil defender Lizzy Raben. 

Duke entered the game with a 331-minute shutout streak but struggled to contain West Virginia and create offensive chances without senior Rebecca Quinn, who missed the game with a back injury.

“We’ve got to get better. We’re not good enough right now,” Blue Devil head coach Robbie Church said. “We didn’t look like ourselves, we didn’t execute like ourselves, we didn’t hold the ball, we didn’t move the ball [in the first half].”

Even with a few breaks going West Virginia's way, Church's team looked particularly weak in the first half, getting outshot 11-1. 

The offensive dry spells that have plagued Duke (4-2-1) at times in nonconference play returned Friday evening, with the Blue Devils only attempting three shots on goal and struggling to play balls in from the sidelines.

“When we were playing the long balls, they were winning the head balls, they were winning the 50-50s and they were shutting down angles,” said Duke junior Ashton Miller, who scored the team's only goal. “They were just beating us at our own game.”

West Virginia (6-0-1) found the back of the net in the 38th minute when junior Amandine Pierre-Louis dribbled up the left sideline past several Blue Devil defenders. She then fired a shot at Duke goalkeeper E.J. Proctor from just outside the box that the goalkeeper deflected but could not stop from trickling in.

Although Proctor did drop a shot from close range against Central Florida in the team’s second game of the season, it was a rare mistake for the 2015 NCAA College Cup Most Outstanding Player on Defense, one that proved costly when West Virginia doubled its lead early in the second half on another counterattack. 

Raben and fellow defender Schuyler DeBree were marking Abam near midfield on the right sideline when the forward appeared to commit a handball. But as Raben and DeBree stopped for a moment, Abam pressed forward without a whistle.

She then blasted a shot from 40 yards out that caught Proctor off guard and reached the back of the net.

Duke fought back in the game's final 30 minutes, finally breaking through in the 66th minute when freshman Olivia Erlbeck sent a cross to Miller off a free kick. The junior's shot to the back post was then deflected past Mountaineer goalkeeper Michelle Newhouse to cut the lead to 2-1.

“Honestly that just shows our trust in each other,” Miller said. “I trust her to serve just as good of a ball as I can, if not better.”

With Duke continuing to press up, its hopes of coming away with a victory were dashed in the 80th minute following a questionable penalty call. 

After Mountaineer Hannah Abraham dribbled past Raben, the Blue Devil co-captain caught up to her in the penalty box and appeared to slide through the ball before Abraham fell on top of her. Another call went against the home team, though, and Abam converted the ensuing penalty kick to stretch the lead back to two.

Duke will have little time to regroup before hosting High Point Sunday at 6 p.m. in its nonconference finale. 

Church said that Quinn—who was honored before the game with two Mountaineers for winning a bronze medal with Canada in the Olympics—is unlikely to play.

“We could have fought harder,” Miller said. “They defended us really well. They shut us down in a lot of ways…. We’re going to play more teams like that along the road, and we’ve got to figure it out.”

Mitchell Gladstone contributed reporting.

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