The fifth-ranked Blue Devils began the 2018 postseason on a roll. Winners of six straight, they returned home from Notre Dame ready to begin their quest for a first-ever conference tournament title.
Florida State apparently didn't get the memo.
For the second time in three seasons, Duke dropped an ACC tournament quarterfinal at home to the Seminoles, losing 1-0 Sunday. Seventh-seeded Florida State controlled play all afternoon at Koskinen Stadium, and with just five shots in the contest, the No. 2 seed Blue Devils had few chances to match a first-half score from the visitors.
Duke limited the Seminoles to just five shots on goal and goalkeeper Brooke Heinsohn nearly did enough, making four saves, but she alone was unable to salvage things on a challenging offensive afternoon.
"We're disappointed in ourselves," head coach Robbie Church said. "We worked so hard to get into this situation, to be on the field as a No. 2 seed, and we just didn't play as well as we are capable of playing.
"Our product wasn't good enough today. It's difficult.... This is a disappointing loss."
It was a relatively quiet start to the match. The teams combined for just five total shots in the first 20 minutes and other than a header by Blue Devil senior Kayla McCoy that was saved, neither side had any real dangerous opportunities.
Florida State then broke through on a free kick to get the day's only score, dishing a short pass toward the end line from just outside the Duke box. Kristina Lynch then swung a deep cross toward the back post and the Seminoles' Deyna Castellanos headed it down to teammate Kristen McFarland, who use her own head to push it past Heinsohn.
"We didn't keep the ball. We had five shots, but I think that's a little bit generous," Church said. "They're a really, really good team, but we have to make better decisions on the ball in games like this. We've got to be a little bit more aggressive."
Before the half, a scary moment for the Blue Devils came when McCoy collided with a Florida State defender and crashed to the ground holding her head. McCoy would, however, escape relatively unharmed and nearly got Duke on the board as soon as she returned to the field a few minutes later.
But the Blue Devils entered the break down a goal and could never climb out of the early deficit.
Duke managed only three shots after intermission, two of which were on goal, and didn't earn a single corner kick during the course of the final 45 minutes. The Blue Devils tried to put some late pressure on with Church pulling defender Taylor Mitchell in favor of an extra attacker.
Still, Duke's best efforts were to no avail.
"We understand that our margin of winning and losing with this group [is small]—we're not going to beat anybody 3-0, 4-0 at this point," Church said. "We've got to be able to make the right decisions. We've got to work hard, we've got to be aggressive, and we've got to be able to bring that effort every day."
The Blue Devils will now begin to focus on the NCAA tournament, which will likely begin at home in a couple of weeks, assuming they earn a No. 4 seed or higher.
The selection show is set to take place Monday, Nov. 5, and from there, Duke will know what its postseason path looks like as it hopes to get back to the College Cup for the second consecutive season.
"We'll take advantage of the 12 days we have," Church said. "We take advantage of rest, recovery, that's one thing we do. We take stock of where are we, what are we doing well, what are we doing not so well. We're not fooled by our six-game winning streak."
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A junior from just outside Philadelphia, Mitchell is probably reminding you how the Eagles won the Super Bowl this year and that the Phillies are definitely on the rebound. Outside of The Chronicle, he majors in Economics, minors in Statistics and is working toward the PJMS certificate, in addition to playing trombone in the Duke University Marching Band. And if you're getting him a sandwich with beef and cheese outside the state of Pennsylvania, you best not call it a "Philly cheesesteak."