Defensive stand fuels Duke women's lacrosse to streak-snapping win at East Carolina

Senior midfielder Lexi Schmalz in Duke's Feb. 10 win against Navy.
Senior midfielder Lexi Schmalz in Duke's Feb. 10 win against Navy.

Duke righted the ship Wednesday evening in Greenville, N.C., against East Carolina, staving off the Pirates in a second-half defensive stand to win 13-10 and snap a four-game losing streak. 

The first half was an offensive spectacle with eight different Blue Devils getting on the board to put No. 18 Duke up 11-8 after 30 minutes. Stellar defense from both squads would dominate for the rest of the game, however, culminating in a scoreless third quarter and only four combined goals in the fourth. Duke’s defense came up with crucial stops during three separate penalties, with key contributions from redshirt senior defender Maddie Johnston and freshman goalkeeper Madison Drebing. Timely goals from redshirt senior midfielder Veronica Hineman and graduate attacker Anna Callahan provided separation in the fourth quarter, and the Blue Devils held the line to come out with a hard-fought win. 

Despite leading 12-9 with five minutes left to play, Duke (5-5, 0-4 in the ACC) needed a goal. Its offense had turned the ball over on the previous possession and the defense was without veteran Cubby Biscardi, who was sitting out with a yellow card. The Pirates (8-2, 1-0 in the American) held the ball with numbers in their favor.

Down a player, Johnston stepped up and applied pressure to the Pirates’ attack. East Carolina sophomore Erin Gulden looked to swing the ball to her team’s leading scorer, senior Frances Kimel, but Johnston was all over her. The ball deflected off of Kimel’s stick, and Johnston was quick to scoop it up and get Duke the much-needed possession. 

The Blue Devils were patient on the other end, taking their time in order to kill the yellow card. As the shot clock wound down, however, Callahan had just what the doctor ordered. 

Rolling through the crease, the graduate student burst with speed and artfully placed a shot right between goalkeeper Brynn Knight’s legs to give Duke a four-goal lead. With a scoring drought of nearly nine minutes over, the momentum had shifted.

A Duke green card gave East Carolina another player-up opportunity, but Duke’s defenders were unwavering. Johnston caused yet another turnover, all but sealing the game for the Blue Devils. East Carolina scored a quick goal on its next possession, but it was too little, too late. There was not enough time to overcome the three-goal deficit, and as time dwindled away, Duke ran the clock out to bring its first win of March back home to Durham. 

It was a productive day for attackers Callahan, Maddie Jenner and Katie DeSimone and midfielder Lexi Schmalz, who tallied two goals apiece. Jenner had 13 draw controls and two caused turnovers on the day as well. Winning possessions on the draw circle was Duke’s bread and butter, with eight of its 13 goals coming in the first possession after winning the draw.  

East Carolina struggled on the draw circle, winning just seven draw controls compared to Duke’s 19, but the Pirates made up for this with efficiency on offense. They scored on 10 of their 18 shots, compared to Duke’s 13-for-37 mark. Kimel and senior midfielder Ellie Bromley kept the Pirates in the game, attacking the cage to combine for seven goals, six of which came in the first half.

The second half was all about which defense could endure the longest, and the Blue Devils triumphed even when the numbers were stacked against them. They prevented East Carolina from capitalizing on three player-up opportunities, two of which came late in the fourth quarter. As Duke’s offensive production stalled, its defenders' commanding presence at the other end denied East Carolina from ever capturing a lead. 

The Blue Devils look to pick up their first ACC win Sunday at Pittsburgh.

Editor’s note: Duke head coach Kerstin Kimel was not available for an interview in time for publication.


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