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Top-5 thriller: Duke women's soccer bests No. 5 Virginia 1-0, takes big step toward ACC regular season title

<p>Sophomore Chelsea Burns got taken down in the box during one of Duke's several scoring chances early in the second half, setting up Gibbons' penalty kick.</p>

Sophomore Chelsea Burns got taken down in the box during one of Duke's several scoring chances early in the second half, setting up Gibbons' penalty kick.

With the regular season coming to a close, Duke entered Saturday night’s game against No. 5 Virginia looking to preserve its status as the only undefeated team in the ACC.

And on Senior Night, it was fitting that the Blue Devils’ co-captain and best player delivered the only goal, powering Duke to its first top-five win of the season.

In a back-and-forth thriller that lived up to the hype, the No. 4 Blue Devils shut out the No. 5 Cavaliers 1-0 Saturday night at Koskinen Stadium. Christina Gibbons converted on a penalty kick in the 63rd minute, and another superb effort from the Duke defense held Virginia scoreless for the first time this season.

“You get in these games and you don’t want to be the one making mistakes,” Blue Devil head coach Robbie Church said. “We were really solid, but in a game like this you can’t be solid, you have to be spectacular. In the second half, there were parts that were really really special.”

After both teams had several chances to score late in the first half and early in the second period, Duke (11-2-2, 6-0-1 in the ACC) broke through after sophomore Chelsea Burns made a move on the left side of the box. Virginia’s Betsy Brandon took Burns down to prevent the Blue Devils from getting another shot off, but the Cavalier defender was called for a penalty.

Gibbons took the kick and calmly found the back of the net for her fourth tally of the year. The Raleigh native has now notched a goal or an assist in her last five games, and along with classmate Toni Payne and junior Imani Dorsey once again generated several scoring chances for Duke.

But Virginia (10-3-2, 3-2-2) showed why they entered the game with their own ACC regular season title aspirations.

The Cavaliers—who averaged 2.6 goals per game entering the match—pushed forward in search of an equalizer, creating its best chance in the 84th minute. On a corner kick, Alexis Shaffer sent the ball toward Brianna Westrup, who fired a header toward the far post.

But for the second straight game, Blue Devil junior defender Morgan Reid supported goalkeeper E.J. Proctor, deflecting the ball away while standing on the back line to preserve the shutout and extend Duke’s winning streak to five games.

The Blue Devils have allowed just one goal in their last six contests.

“We’re in a really good spot,” Dorsey said. “We have a lot of energy coming off this win and a lot of confidence. These are all really good tests.”

Although Dorsey and company got the offense going early in the second half, Duke generated just two shot attempts during a defensive opening period—its second-lowest total of the season. The Blue Devils’ first shot came in the 37th minute, when Burns’ header off a corner kick was saved by Cavalier goalkeeper Morgan Stearns.

Proctor made her own clutch first-half save just a few minutes later to keep Virginia off the board after a Cavalier player deflected a Duke clear. Meagan McCool was the beneficiary, dribbling for a one-on-one chance against Proctor, who came up with a body save to energize the Blue Devils near the end of the half.

Duke got the final word in before halftime in the 43rd minute, but freshman Ella Stevens sent a shot wide right after Gibbons made one of her patented runs down the left sideline and fired a cross into the box.

The Blue Devils continued pushing forward early in the second half, with Dorsey crossing a dangerous ball toward a cutting Payne that the senior sent toward Stearns. The Virginia goalkeeper made one of her three saves of the game, however, keeping the game knotted before Gibbons bested her on the penalty kick.

With Duke playing its best soccer of the year, the Blue Devils will look to take another step toward the ACC regular season title at No. 9 Florida State next Thursday. Duke has outscored ACC opponents 13-1 in its last five games.

“[With] the ACC tournament coming up and the NCAA tournament coming up, this is when you want your playing at its peak,” Church said. “We still have some growth in us. I don’t think overall we’ve peaked, and it’s exciting. This is a great time of year.”

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