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Duke women's soccer breaks through against Clemson with comfortable victory

<p>Mackenzie Pluck notched two goals against Clemson.</p>

Mackenzie Pluck notched two goals against Clemson.

What do you consider an own goal?

Most might say it’s when you kick or deflect a ball into your own net.

I’d argue that giving the ball directly to your opponent and kindly asking them to score on you counts. And that when the opposing goalie takes a routine pass and kicks it ten feet forwards directly to you, that it’s only polite to take that ball and sail it over her head for your sixth goal of the season.

So when Clemson’s goalie, Sandy MacIver, Jr., a 2018 third-team All-ACC goalkeeper, shanked a pass right to Mackenzie Pluck, the Duke midfielder didn’t hesitate. Pluck then added another goal later on to lead No. 11 Duke to a 4-1 blowout against the 9th-ranked Tigers at Koskinen Stadium Sunday. 

“Oh, I was surprised," Pluck said. "Usually we stay in a position where we can intercept the ball from the centerbacks, but I think the goalie just slipped a little and it left her [open for] a chip [shot], so I was excited for that.”

I might also define heading the ball right to the opposition to be some form of an own goal. Doing so at full speed, off a free kick flying in from midfield, is fairly defensible. But that didn’t stop Marykate McGuire from taking that header and getting it into the goal, one of her two scores of the afternoon.

“When [it was] headed, I was like, 'Oh!' I thought it was going in, and then I guess it wasn’t, so I just tapped it," McGuire said. "The feeling was just — it felt awesome, how we could all just get on that and so early in the game, it really, really pushed us, and I thought it helped us go all the way through.”

That goal was only seven minutes into the game. And it was followed just six minutes later by Pluck’s, on a day where the Blue Devils (7-1-5, 2-0-4 in the ACC) took advantage of early sloppiness by Clemson (8-4-1, 2-4-0), handing the Tigers their worst loss since the semifinals of the 2015 ACC championship.

Sunday’s match didn’t start off as comfortably as it ended. 

“Early, I thought we were not as clean, I thought we passed the ball to them a lot, but I thought in the second half we were really clean, connected that next pass and go,” said Duke head coach Robbie Church. “And then we moved as a unit up the field, so we got a lot of people involved.”

The Blue Devils were outshot by the Tigers 13-8, equalled in shots on goal, had fewer corner kicks and committed more fouls. Yet Clemson could never sustain any momentum, in part due to plenty of weather-induced miscues.

The rain poured down from pregame until some time past the 30th minute, when the heavens decided they were pleased by the current scoreline, and let up. Clemson took the opportunity to net their first score in the 53rd minute, with a free kick upfield of the right corner of the box finding a Tiger right on the head, who put it out of Duke goalie Brooke Heinsohn’s reach. 

A few minutes later, McGuire stole the ball from a Clemson midfielder on the left sideline, sent a perfect pass into the path of a sprinting Ella Stevens, who pulled a few defenders to her side before crossing it to Pluck, leaving her one-on-one with MacIver, Jr. The goalie stood no chance.

“[Our scoring] was relieving,” said Pluck. “I think we all needed it and we all knew we could do it. We’ve been building for this, we’ve been waiting for this, we’ve been switching formations and this time we planned to play a formation [from which] that we could both defend really well and attack really well, and I think we did a good job with it.”

Pluck nearly collected an assist two minutes later, but an aggressive slide tackle from MacIver, Jr. ended the attack and left Pluck on the ground. She tried to get up, but could only hobble away, and needed to be helped off the field.

Anguished by her injury, the heavens opened again, even heavier than before.

They did not let up as Duke's Delaney Graham went down in the 72nd minute, clutching her knee, and had to be helped off the field. But by the end, both Graham and Pluck had gotten back into the game, with the latter collecting an assist by weaving a Lily Nabet pass through to McGuire, who scored her second goal of the game.

“It’s great to get through a game without losing a player,” said Church. “It seems like it’s a little bit of [fatigue] or some training. This mentality of our team, it’s a different mentality than we’ve had in a while. They’re warriors. They fight, they scrap, they play hard, they create opportunities. We don’t give up much, we’re hard to break down.”

Getting through without injury is a welcome change for the Blue Devils, who lost both Sophie Jones and Mia Gyau for the season last week. The Blue Devils also broke a streak of three straight scoreless ties Sunday, an offensive drought that absurdly culminated in postgame fireworks after their bout with North Carolina where both teams went 120 minutes without scoring. 

"These last four games, it definitely has been hard, but it’s definitely made us even stronger and it shows that we’re ready for anything and that we can beat anybody in the country," McGuire said. "I think we’re just ready and I think that today just made it even better for us. So we’re ready now for the next match.”

Duke will face its fifth straight ranked opponent on Friday when the Blue Devils travel to Louisville to take on the No. 16 Cardinals as they look to continue climbing the ACC standings. 

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