When the final buzzer sounds, it doesn’t matter who had the momentum—all that matters are the numbers on the scoreboard.
And for Duke, it was basic math: 13 is greater than 12.
The Blue Devils squeaked past Maryland 13-12 Sunday at Koskinen Stadium in Durham on the back of a game-sealing save from Duke goalie Sophia LeRose as time expired. After rolling to a win in its first round matchup against Mount St. Mary's and despite its higher seeding, Duke found itself in a battle Sunday afternoon against a Maryland program that’s advanced to 11 straight Final Fours. But after a season of close losses, the Blue Devils turned a corner in this matchup and showed that they can deliver when it matters most.
“I'm so proud of our kids,” Duke head coach Kerstin Kimel said. “And for us, having been out of the tournament since 2016, it's such a testament to how hard our kids have worked, how hard they competed. At this time of the year, it's all about survive and advance. And that last 15 minutes was not the prettiest version of lacrosse that we can play. But it was enough to win. And I'll take it.”
With 1:28 to play, the Blue Devils had their backs against the wall, despite maintaining a narrow one-goal lead. The Terrapins were on a 5-0 run over the last 13 minutes and Duke hadn’t found the back of the net since the 20:45 mark of the second period. It was the most important draw control of the game, but Duke’s normally dominant draw-control specialist Maddie Jenner had never quite found her groove in the circle.
After a bit of scrum in the fight for possession on the draw, Jenner came up with the ball and all Duke needed to do now was run out the clock. But Maryland had other plans.
The next minute for the Blue Devils consisted of a pair of timeouts and running from the Maryland defenders, but eventually the hounding defense was too much, and the Terrapins got their turnover and quickly turned their attention to finding that game-tying score, hoping to send this one to overtime.
So, with 26.8 seconds between them and advancing to its first NCAA tournament quarterfinals since 2015, all Duke needed was a stop. And as she has so often this season, LeRose stepped up to the challenge.
The Blue Devil defense held Maryland without a look until the very last second, but anything can happen in the NCAA tournament. A flurry of bodies flashed in front of LeRose as Maryland’s breakout sophomore Libby May got a shot off milliseconds before time expired. But as the final buzzer sounded, you didn’t see the ball in the back of the net—it was arcing high in the air off its collision with the stick of LeRose.
The game was over. The Blue Devils had won and celebrated accordingly, swarming the field and mobbing LeRose.
“We just knew we had to stop that ball and do whatever we could to stop that ball,” LeRose said. “I wasn't even expecting that shot, but at the same time with 10 seconds left, we were ready for anything. Collectively as a unit, we were so locked in and were able to make that stop at the end. It's a great feeling.”
For much of the afternoon, though, it didn’t look like it was going to come down to the closing seconds, and the Blue Devils had found themselves in position to cruise to a win against the Terrapins, a team they hadn’t played since May 2014 and hadn’t beaten since February of 2012. After a back-and-forth affair for much of the first half, the Blue Devils had begun to find some separation in the last couple minutes of the period, with freshman Katie DeSimone continuing her hot streak from the previous game and graduate transfer Gabby Rosenzweig adding to her tournament experience with a score.
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The beginning of the second half was much of the same, with the Blue Devils opening the scoring with a pair of goals, one of them from DeSimone, who finished with a career-high-tying four goals in this match. A Maryland goal provided a brief interlude to the run of goals from Duke, but the Blue Devils responded with two of their own, with Catriona Barry’s score with just under 21 minutes to go proving to be the winning goal for Duke. So despite the lull in offense and the ensuing run of Maryland goals, the Blue Devils stayed strong.
“They just believed in themselves the whole game,” Kimel said of her team. “No one ever was down. No one was ever worried. They just stayed focused and kept going.”
And in relaying what she told DeSimone in an earlier conversation, Kimel said, “'This is why you came here. And remember what this feels like because this is where we belong every year.'”
It’s games like this where the grit of a program shows through and that’s precisely what the Blue Devils displayed today. That no matter how hard things get, there is a way to win. And now that Duke has found itself on the right side of a one-goal win, you can be sure that it’ll continue to seek out this feeling.
But the season isn’t over just yet, and the Blue Devils’ most important game remains in front of them. Duke will get almost a week of rest before heading to Evanston, Ill., to take on No. 2 seed Northwestern at 1 p.m. May 22. The last time these two matched up was in the shortened 2020 season, when a Blue Devil comeback attempt fell just short against the Wildcats, ending in a 24-20 loss. But after knocking out the defending champions, Duke will be coming into this one with confidence.
“Coach Kimel keeps saying, ‘Keep throwing the first punch, throw the hammer down,’ and that's our mindset going into the next game,” DeSimone said. “Looking forward to Northwestern, we are chasing after a national championship and that has been our whole goal. We've stuck together this whole season and we're gonna continue to do so in the following week.”