Midway through the final day’s back nine, it looked as if the Blue Devils might narrowly earn their first stroke-play victory of the 2016-17 season.

But the red numbers Duke needed to make it happen never came.

The Blue Devils held a two-stroke advantage in the final round of the Darius Rucker Intercollegiate with all players through 12 holes, but an untimely birdie-free back nine at Long Cove Club halted Duke’s progress while reigning-champion Alabama gained ground. The No. 5 Crimson Tide bested the 12th-ranked Blue Devils by three shots during the final five holes en route to a two-shot victory.

Duke’s 9-over-par performance at the event included four players who finished in a tie for sixth or better, but it was not enough to overcome Alabama and star sophomore Cheyenne Knight, who carded a bogey-free 65 Sunday to help her team slide past the Blue Devils in Hilton Head, S.C.

“We had an interesting round today, we didn’t have any birdies on the back as a team,” Duke head coach Dan Brooks said. “And I don’t know if I’ve ever seen that before... particularly with par-5s. The par-5 on the 16th that we could have capitalized on. So, you always go back to and think of the little things that could have happened that changed the outcome of a tournament. I come out of it with a very positive feeling.”

Knight blazed the field all weekend, holding a share of the lead at the end of both Friday’s and Saturday’s rounds and eventually winning the individual title by seven strokes at 8-under-par.

Blue Devil junior Gurbani Singh also held a share of the lead after Friday’s opening round, carding three birdies to yield a career-low 68 on the par-71 track. The New Delhi native slipped a bit in the second round—posting five bogeys against one birdie for a 75—but kept it together during the final round and was one of three Blue Devils to shoot 3-over-par Sunday. Singh’s tie for sixth place matches a career-best finish in October’s Tar Heel Invitational.

Singh along with senior Sandy Choi were the last two Blue Devils on the course and had a late chance to challenge Alabama’s lead—which was at one stroke with all players through 16 holes—but combined for three pars and one bogey on holes 17 and 18.

Despite the slow finish, Choi had an excellent tournament overall, leading Duke with a fifth-place, 2-over-par result with rounds of 73, 69 and 73. With the finish, Choi’s career resume at Long Cove Club now includes three top-five finishes—she tied for third in 2015 and tied for second last year.

"The interesting thing about Sandy is that when a golf course plays long—which this plays long, the wind was blowing—that’s where she shines, and you wouldn’t think that from a player that doesn’t hit it real far," Brooks said. "Long Cove is challenging. It’s long, it’s difficult, it takes a lot of placement and that’s where she shines. And then she’s got the short game to back it up if she can’t get on the green."

The Blue Devils’ close call was set up by a solid 36-hole showing that left the team tied for first place with the Crimson Tide after Saturday’s round, during which Duke posted a tournament-low 287.

The event was the second straight in which the Blue Devils held the lead during the final round’s back nine but were unable to turn that advantage into a victory. At February’s Northrop Grumman Regional Challenge, the team traded places on the leaderboard with several opponents throughout the final nine holes before finishing in third place.

Ana Belac notched a career-best at that event with a tie for seventh place, but raised the bar even higher in Hilton Head by finishing in a tie for sixth. The freshman started the week on a sour note by triple-bogeying the par-4 first hole Friday en route to a 75, but led her team in birdies during the final 36 holes to make up for that deficit and end with rounds of 71 and 70.

"She just is a really solid player," Brooks said. "It’s nice that a freshman could come in and be as solid as she’s been. She’s worked hard on her game and she’s really hitting the ball quite a bit better this spring than she did in the fall and that’s testimony to her hard work."

Junior Leona Maguire was the most consistent Blue Devil of the week, shooting 72 each day of the 54-hole contest to also tie for sixth. The Cavan, Ireland, native earned three bogies and two birdies Friday and Saturday before having a relatively uneventful Sunday, ending her round with 12 consecutive pars after a birdie on the par-5 third hole and a double-bogey on the par-5 sixth.

Lisa Maguire made her fifth start of the season at the tournament, as the team was without sophomore Virginia Elena Carta, who missed the event after having her tonsils removed. Maguire struggled during the final two days and did not see her score count Saturday or Sunday— during which she shot 85 and 76, respectively—but did tie her lowest single-round score of the season with a 2-over-par 73 Friday.

"Everybody counted at least one round for the tournament, and that’s great," Brooks said. "There’s a lot of real positive stuff going on. I like the direction people are going with their games, and I think they came out of this. Nothing motivates you like coming close, and I’m sure we’re going to come out of this ready to prepare and win the next one."

Duke has a quick turnaround and will compete in its next event Saturday and Sunday at the Suntrust Gator Inviational in Gainesville, Fla.