Coming off three straight ranked losses, Duke came into this top-15 matchup knowing a win would prove it can play with the big dogs of this year’s incredibly strong ACC lineup.
And the Blue Devils did just that.
No. 8 Duke took down No. 15 Louisville 12-10 Thursday in Louisville, Ky. Junior goalkeeper Sophia LeRose anchored Duke with a career-high 14 saves, 13 of which came in an intense second half.
“We’ll take any gritty, hard-fought ACC win on the road,” head coach Kerstin Kimel said. “Our team was a little slow out of the gate, particularly on the defensive side of the ball today.”
Duke's Abby Landry scored the final goal of the game with 8:15 left, but that wasn’t remotely close to the end of the action.
A pinnacle moment that was a complete culmination of the game as a whole came with five minutes remaining, when Louisville’s Izzy Holmes had a free position shot from the eight-meter arc. LeRose saved it and stepped out of the circle to clear it, but she faltered for the briefest of seconds, and the Cardinals' Nicole Perroni took advantage. Perroni went for the shot, and LeRose leapt into the circle where she stumbled into Blue Devil senior Catriona Barry, who blocked Perroni’s shot with her body.
Barry received a yellow card for her actions, but LeRose sealed the Blue Devils' victory with yet another save on Perroni’s free position shot.
“Sophia gave [the team] hope…. We’re really proud of her and how tough-minded she played tonight and how she really helped us win this game tonight,” Kimel said.
The Blue Devils (7-5, 3-5 in the ACC) jumped out to a 2-1 lead in the first four minutes, using goals from Barry and junior Maddie Jenner to come out of the gates strong. But Louisville (5-7, 1-6) refused to go down easily, forcing the Blue Devils into a scoring drought for the majority of the first half. The Cardinals scored five unanswered goals, and used their unstoppable energy to cause 11 Duke turnovers in the opening 30 minutes.
Frankly, Duke seemed to be working a bit too fast in the first half. After Louisville’s third goal, the Blue Devils went into overdrive but could not catch a break between sloppy turnovers and fouls on the defensive end, giving the Cardinals free position shots that LeRose wasn’t able to stop as the home team shot out to a 5-2 advantage.
“Slow” is rarely a word associated with this year’s team. During the scoring drought, Duke’s Cubby Biscardi sprinted the ball essentially the length of the field in what felt like the blink of an eye, but characteristically of the Blue Devils’ first half, she turned the ball over before she could settle it.
However, Kimel called a timeout with a little more than 20 minutes left in the period. And from then on, the game began to fall into place for Duke, with the Blue Devils jumping back ahead 7-6 heading into halftime.
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“Louisville is a really good team. I thought we defended them exceptionally well after we let them go on a run,” Kimel said. “We got behind but from the timeout we called on, I thought we did a great job and [LeRose] in the goal was particularly good for us.”
Despite only leading by one at the start of the second half, the Blue Devils had clearly decided they were done dropping the ball. Jenner and company continued to dominate on the draw circle and overall, the team played a much calmer offense than it did in the first half.
On the other end of the field, LeRose became an iron wall that the Cardinals simply could not get past. Louisville was relentless in the second half with 17 shots on goal, but LeRose saved all but four of them.
“[LeRose] performed the best 30 minutes of her career,” Kimel said.
Up next, Duke takes on Liberty Tuesday before two tough ACC games to end the regular season against Virginia Tech and No. 1 North Carolina, respectively.