The show comes rolling into Durham this weekend.
The ACC tournament kicks off Friday at Koskinen Stadium as the top four teams in the conference square off, with the bragging rights that come with being the best team in arguably the best conference in the nation at stake.
The second-seeded Blue Devils will face No. 3 seed Notre Dame in the late semifinal game in Koskinen Stadium Friday night at about 8:30 p.m. North Carolina and Syracuse face off earlier in the night in the other semifinal. The matchup with the Fighting Irish is a rematch from earlier this season, when Duke jumped out to a quick 4-1 lead and never relinquished it in an 11-8 win at home. The semifinal matchup is familiar territory for both teams—Notre Dame has lost to the Blue Devils in the ACC semifinals the past two years.
“They are a great team and we are a great team.” Junior attackman Justin Guterding said. “It is just going to be a battle. It will be a one-goal game and it may honestly come down to who makes the play at the end of the game, and I am really confident that we will.”
Guterding and fellow senior attackman Jack Bruckner lead Duke back to Durham after helping secure a win against Marquette last weekend. The Blue Devils outscored the Golden Eagles 6-1 in the final 24 minutes of the 11-7 victory, and Guterding led the way with three goals and an assist. Duke will need the powerful duo to shine on Friday night to keep up with the Fighting Irish's powerful offensive weapons.
Senior midfielder Sergio Perkovic may be getting hot at the perfect time this spring. The left-handed scorer has 22 goals on the season, with nine coming in the last two games. The Motor City Hit Man, as he is known in South Bend, has a knack for coming up big in the postseason. In nine career postseason games, Perkovic has 20 goals.
Duke (11-3) must also watch out for Perkovic’s linemate Mikey Wynne. The junior attackman shined in the Fighting Irish’s win against North Carolina April 22 with five goals on just seven shots. Sophomore Ryder Garnsey rounds out the dangerous offensive trio that Notre Dame (7-3) brings to the table. The Wolfeboro, N.H., native leads the team with 34 points through 10 games.
In addition to their offensive firepower, the Fighting Irish are battle-tested as well. Six of their 10 contests this season have been decided by one goal, and they are 4-2 in those games.
“It is very difficult to beat a really good team twice in one season so that’s another challenge for sure.” Blue Devil head coach John Danowski said. “Another challenge is to not look ahead, but because it is Notre Dame and because they are so talented, so good and so well-coached, nobody is looking ahead because you just can’t. The guys know better.”
A win against Notre Dame would set up a rematch against either top-seeded Syracuse or No. 4 seed North Carolina in the finals Sunday. The Orange are the top-ranked team in the nation and the only team that has defeated Duke since February in a 12-11 overtime thriller March 25. The Blue Devils held a late 11-9 lead, but Syracuse scored two goals in the last 6:23 to tie it up, and Jamie Trimboli found the back of the net early in the extra session.
The Orange have also topped Duke in the last two ACC championship games, and the Blue Devils will be hungry for revenge if they are in the same situation this year.
This is the first time that Duke is hosting the ACC tournament since 2011, and the Blue Devils own two titles when hosting, in 2002 and 2007. Duke will be looking for its eighth ACC championship in total.
“I think it is really exciting. To compete for an ACC championship, that’s what every athlete here at Duke aspires to.” Danowski said. “[All teams at Duke] aspire to win a conference title, so you are just around it all the time. It is special and it is different.”
Correction: An earlier headline to this article stated that Duke last won the ACC championship in 2014. It has not won since 2012. The Chronicle regrets the error.
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