“Let’s go!” senior Christina Gibbons yelled at her teammates Thursday night as Clemson celebrated its win on Duke’s home field. “Get your heads up. We’ve got a tournament this weekend!”
Despite the co-captain’s words of encouragement, that tournament ended in a similar fashion for the Blue Devils.
After 2015 National Freshman of the Year Megan Connolly struck her team’s fifth penalty kick into the top left corner of the goal, Duke looked on as another ACC rival handed the Blue Devils their second loss in four days.
No. 6 seed Florida State knocked off third-seeded Duke 3-2 in penalty kicks after the teams were tied 1-1 following 110 minutes of action at Koskinen Stadium Sunday afternoon in the ACC tournament quarterfinals. The Seminoles gave the Blue Devils their first ACC loss in Tallahassee, Fla., last week with a 1-0 overtime win, and Florida State took advantage again when Duke missed its first three penalty kicks en route to its third loss in four games.
“It’s my fault that we didn’t start maybe a little bit earlier and become better at our PKs,” Blue Devil head coach Robbie Church said. “It’s just frustrating to see that we have come up short at the end of the year.”
Duke took the lead in the 32nd minute when junior Ashton Miller ripped a bullet from more than 20 yards out into the bottom left corner of the goal past Seminole goalkeeper Cassie Miller. Miller has given Duke all sorts of trouble in recent weeks, as she shut out the Blue Devils in Tallahassee, and finished Sunday’s game with five saves, including two in the penalty shootout.
Ashton Miller’s shot, though, was too accurate to be stopped, and it marked the fourth time in her career she has scored from outside the penalty box. She scored a nearly identical goal last year against Pittsburgh, finding space beyond the box and striking a low shot into the bottom corner of the goal.
“That’s kind of my spot, on top of the box,” she said. “This season so far, I haven’t really had an opportunity to hit that ball. So I was really excited when I finally got it right where I love to hit the ball.”
The goal changed the pace of the game—both teams started finding more scoring chances shortly after Miller’s finish. Duke had two prime opportunities to score in the last 10 minutes of the first half, as seniors Toni Payne and Gibbons set up junior Imani Dorsey and redshirt junior Malinda Allen for looks in the box, but both shots went right at Miller.
The Seminoles (12-3-3) responded just two minutes into the second half. After senior defender Lizzy Raben cleared a ball with her head in the box, freshman Deyna Castellanos stood right outside the box and drilled a one-time volley into the right corner of the goal.
“They scored a world-class goal against us, oh my God,” Church said. “We saw a goal like that in China—that was the only time I’ve seen anything like that.”
After winning every regular-season game it led in, the Blue Devils (12-4-3) could not finish off Florida State in the second half. Although the Seminoles dominated play after halftime, it was Duke that had the best scoring chance.
In the 54th minute, Dorsey broke free behind the Florida State back line and had just Miller to beat to take a 2-1 lead. The junior tried dribbling to the right and around Miller as the goalkeeper came off her line, but Miller fell on the ball and ended the scoring threat.
“We see how close we are, but we’ve been there all year,” Church said. “We had two or three really quality opportunities. You can’t really ask for more against a really quality team.”
Although Duke searched for answers late in the game, it managed only one shot on goal after the first half. The troubles highlighted the injuries that have hampered the team this year, as senior Rebecca Quinn and sophomore Kayla McCoy are out for the year and there is no timetable for sophomore Taylor Racioppi’s return from a lower-leg injury.
Mia Gyau, Ella Stevens, Casey Martinez and Allen have all seen more minutes since then, but struggled to penetrate Florida State’s back line Sunday.
The loss likely ends the Blue Devils’ chances of earning a No. 2 seed in the NCAA tournament, meaning Duke would only host a first-round game barring an upset by higher seeds in its side of the bracket.
“Now we have that mentality, that underdog mentality,” Miller said. “If we can get everyone fresh and 100 percent by the time the tournament comes, I think we’ll be really good.”
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