For one of the most dominant regular season teams in the ACC, Duke has consistently had misfortune in the postseason.
And unfortunately for the Blue Devils, the curse of the NCAA tournament continues as Duke’s season ends thanks to a heartbreaking miscue and controversial call.
The fourth-seeded Blue Devils fell 1-0 to Wake Forest in a heartbreaking double-overtime thriller Sunday afternoon at Williams Field at Jack Katz Stadium. Although Duke dominated the game, an inability to convert sent the match to overtime. And just one slipped ball later, the Blue Devils’ season was over.
“We played an incredible game today,” Duke head coach Pam Bustin said. “I couldn’t be more happy of the type of field hockey we played. The changes we've made, the way we were able to contain their threats and put on the attack…. I couldn't be more proud. It's unfortunate that a controversial, unlucky bounce finishes a game that we worked so hard to basically dominate.
After going back and forth through the first overtime period, Duke (16-6) pressed an attack to take down the Demon Deacons, which was countered with a run from Anne Van Hoof down the side. Van Hoof traded with Emily Adamson and shot right into the pads of Duke goalkeeper Sammi Steele. However, the ball bounced just behind Steele after the block and rolled into the corner before the Blue Devil keeper could recover, nicking the corner of the cage and falling in just by inches. Although Duke challenged, the call stood and the Blue Devils’ season came to a close.
“It's a horrible, tough day for the Duke Blue Devils who in my opinion put themselves in positions to win the game and earn the win, but we didn't,” Bustin said. “Congratulations to Wake Forest, and I wish them and the ACC the best in the Final Four.”
In the first half of play, the Blue Devils struggled to finish on drives despite controlling the tempo for the afternoon.
Although the home team kept the ball in enemy territory for a majority of the half and earned three opportunities off penalty corners, Duke could not finish in the circle. Senior Rose Tynan led the Blue Devil attack with five shots in the half, but none of them connected thanks to strong ball pressure from Wake Forest’s backfield duo of Brittany Dickinson and Van Hoof. Duke managed one clean look just before the halftime buzzer rang with a low screamer from junior Margaux Paolino, but ultimately both teams entered the locker room scoreless.
The start of the second period was no different for the two teams. Although Duke consistently kept the ball in the possession of its forwards, Wake Forest’s suffocating defense clogged up any clean attacking lanes the Blue Devils tried to create.
As play progressed, the Demon Deacons (13-9) finally began to flip the script on Duke, capitalizing on offenses miscues to drive the ball right to the heart of the Blue Devils’ back line. However, Duke’s vaunted defense propped up by goalkeeper Sammi Steele and graduate student Tessa Gote kept Wake Forest’s deep runs at bay.
Duke’s best opportunity to score came in the final minutes of play, where van Hoof tripped up Paolino and spent the rest of the period in the penalty box. But even up a player, the Blue Devils squandered the opportunity to put the game away, failing to make a meaningful drive and forcing the match into overtime.
In Duke’s opening round of the tournament, the Blue Devils were held closer than they would have liked.
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Although Duke applied pressure for the entire 70 minutes and outshot Miami 26-5, the Blue Devils were only able to find the back of the cage once. In the 22nd minute, Sahaydak found an open look at the end of the circle and rocketed her shot right through the RedHawk defenders, scoring the lone goal of the contest. Although Duke’s offense dominated the pace of play, Miami goalkeeper Maddie Passarella was stalwart in the cage, notching 12 saves and preventing the Blue Devils from ever comfortably putting the match away.
“Miami was a great preparation for us,” Bustin said. “It was tight only in the box score. Figuring out defenses packing it in, really put a lot of people in to defend us, so we've got to figure that out.”
Consistently one of the top teams in the nation, Duke has struggled in the post season, falling in the quarterfinals their third straight year. The Blue Devils will be without a high-powered senior class of Tynan, Erin Scherrer, Caroline Andretta, Morgan Bitting and Christy Palazzese next season, but should expect big things from returners such as Paolino, Sahaydak and Crouse.
“For a team that had to come together in January and really make things happen after losing six very influential seniors from last year, five starters, I am so proud of the senior leadership, of the whole team making the changes they needed to help us become the team that we are today.” Bustin said. “We have to figure this out.”