“Save by Hamill!”
If you watched the Duke game Monday, you probably heard those three words often.
No. 19 Duke ultimately fell to Seattle 1-0, ending its three-game shutout streak, after a Seattle goal in the final five minutes of the second sudden-death overtime. It was a tight battle at Koskinen Stadium for 106 minutes, and no one rose to the occasion more than senior goalkeeper Eliot Hamill.
“He’s been waiting his time patiently and he's really come good when we need him…. He really stood up and did a great job for us tonight,” head coach John Kerr said after the game.
After not seeing game action in his first two years in the program, Hamill finally grabbed the starting job last spring after four-year starter Will Pulisic graduated in the fall of 2020, and he’s been rock solid for Duke (3-1) since. However, if he hadn’t proven himself already, he sure did this game.
This week’s ACC Defensive Player of the Week made a career-high eight saves on 15 shots faced, the second-most faced in his career, and many of them likely left the Redhawks scratching their heads and wondering How did he save that? From diving saves to leaping up on an overtime goal to deflect a perfectly placed shot from outside the box, Hamill was locked in and ready for anything.
If there was any game for Hamill to come up big in, it was this one. Seattle (3-1), which was the unofficial No. 26 team of Week One, played with a vengeance after dropping a narrow game Thursday against Charlotte, and Redhawk leading scorer Declan McGlynn stalked around the box waiting to strike all game.
On the other side of the field question marks surrounded the game from even before kickoff as the announcer read off a starting lineup absent of much of Duke’s core. Ten players who had started in a game this season, including all but one of the usual starters on the backline and star midfielder Peter Stroud, were unavailable to start the game. Some, but not all, eventually made their way onto the field at around the 20-minute mark. While Kerr could not tell exactly why, he did say that the team was dealing with an “internal issue” that led to the players’ absence.
Crucially, sophomore goaltender JT Harms, who was alternating starts with Hamill and who Kerr said after Thursday’s game against Michigan would start Monday, was also unavailable all game as Kerr said he had tested positive for COVID-19 and was in isolation. The only other goaltender on the roster, freshman Grant Farley, is coming off COVID-19 and was not cleared to play Monday, Kerr also said.
This came to a head midway through the second half when sophomore Redhawk Tom Fielding collected a pass for a breakaway and took a point-blank, goal-bound shot with no one between him and the net but Hamill. It was then that Hamill made arguably the best save of his career. Expertly reading Fielding’s body language and diving to the side, he took the ball directly to the face, making the initial save, and then somehow reached his hand up from the ground to collect the rebound after it bounced off Duke defender Ian Murphy’s foot in the direction of the goal.
Afterwards, a hush fell over the field as Hamill lay on the ground bleeding, as it initially looked like he could be seriously injured. He eventually got up, and a trainer helped him to the sidelines, but there was still an air of uncertainty looming: with both other goalies out, the game was on pause until either Hamill was cleared to play or Duke moved to an emergency backup goalie situation. It wouldn’t come to that, however, as a few minutes and a messy towel later, he rallied, going on to make two more big saves in the remaining 35 minutes of gameplay.
Hamill’s game-defining save demonstrated his competitive edge, which was dialed up to 100 all night. Completely committed to every move, he was willing to take risks and push the limits of his position.
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“A couple of [Hamill’s plays] were not by design, and he almost made a bad decision on one...but overall, he did make some really good decisions and brave decisions. It's hard for a goalkeeper because you have to react to what the forward’s going to do, and you have to stand your ground and be ready to react in a positive way and he did a great job,” Kerr said.
While one play in particular maybe didn’t go according to plan, as Murphy had to step in net and block a shot, the Blue Devils were certainly glad for Hamill’s willingness to confront forwards and skirt the edges of the box, as the risks often paid off in creative saves.
His presence was felt outside the net too. As the lone senior captain this year, Hamill was often seen directing the team from the very back and talking one-on-one with teammates during stoppages of play, ultimately helping lead the team through the murky waters of a game that saw many first-time starters shoulder previously unseen responsibility.
Though the game did not end how the Blue Devils wanted, they have few complaints about the road there. Despite a shaky lineup and game-ending injuries, including the loss of Stroud in overtime, Duke was able to battle through, making offensive pushes where it almost felt inevitable that they would score and ultimately just edging a talented Seattle team 22-15 in shots.
Freshman Shakur Mohammed led all players with seven shots, while fellow freshmen Ruben Mesalles and Felix Barajas got three and two respectively. Not to mention walk-on Luke Thomas, who also had two shots and stepped in admirably at Stroud’s position while he was unavailable. For a team that struggled to generate offense last season, this performance is very encouraging.
Defensively, while the Redhawks were able to find their openings, the Blue Devils also made key plays in the box to shut down dangerous opportunities, and Seattle’s overtime goal, while a great capitalization on a costly mistake, is the first and only goal the defensive unit has given up all season.
Between Hamill’s career night and the team finding ways to come together through adversity, the Blue Devils are confident that they can learn and move on from Monday night and be ready for the start of their ACC slate Saturday against Virginia Tech.
“I always tell the team, ‘Don't get too high when you win and don't get too low when you lose’…. We're playing well, and we played well much of the game tonight…. We'll be ready for Saturday night. We're ready for the Hokies.”