As the sun’s rays beat down on Koskinen Stadium, junior attacker Katie DeSimone charged toward history. On the opposite end of the field, senior goalie Shaye Fitzpatrick was poised to break some personal records of her own. Fortunately for Duke, neither would disappoint.
Despite a shaky start, the 11th-ranked Blue Devils stormed past Liberty in a commanding 18-4 victory Tuesday afternoon, avenging their Saturday loss at Boston College. Along the way, DeSimone put five in the back of the net en route to earning 100 career goals as Fitzpatrick tallied a career-high 13 saves. Duke also got big contributions from the likes of Eva Greco, Anna Callahan and Caroline DeBellis.
“I think it’s really the first time all season that we’ve seen a zone, and I thought we got antsy on them,” said head coach Kerstin Kimel. “[However], our decision making improved as the game went on, and our turnovers kind of decreased.”
While the score sheet reflected dominance, the Blue Devils’ first half of play was anything but. With sloppiness that led to nine turnovers in the first quarter alone, flawless execution seemingly evaded Kimel’s squad as they continuously dropped the ball and chose passes that were easily intercepted. But the Flames had some struggles of their own that the Duke defense pounced upon, shutting down most counterattacks in the midfield.
Nonetheless, when the Blue Devils needed someone to put numbers on the board, DeSimone stepped into the limelight. One goal would have been enough to capture the 100th of her career, but the junior did not stop there. With impeccable quick sticks and sharp free position shooting, the Bay Shore, N.Y., native helped Duke jump out to a 3-0 lead.
“Katie is just a super scrappy, tough kid who has a nose for the goal,” said Kimel. “She steps up in big moments when we need [a] momentum shift.”
Unfortunately for the Blue Devils, DeSimone’s spark did not turn into a flame for her rest of the teammates. The second quarter saw more of the same — more turnovers, more interceptions and more missed opportunities. Liberty started to battle back into the game.
With a sidearm shot from the right elbow of the eight-meter arc, junior Mackenzie Lehman got the Flames on the board. Teammates Lizzy Ferguson and Cami Merkel added tallies of their own to make the Blue Devils’ lead 6-3. The half went on to end 10-3 after Duke’s offense started to kick into high gear, but Liberty was ever so close to opening the floodgates.
Kimel’s halftime words seemed to do the trick as the Blue Devils went on to outscore the Flames 8-1 and limited themselves to eight turnovers. Meanwhile, Duke ended the day with 11 different players in the scoring column, and half of their goals were assisted. With a buzzer-beater by graduate student Amanda Fedor, the Blue Devils righted the ship and raced toward a win.
The real story of the day occurred between the pipes on Duke’s defensive end with Fitzpatrick’s outstanding performance. After only playing seven games in her career before the 2023 season, the senior from Batavia, Ill., has stepped up in the absence of starter Sophia LeRose. In just the third start of her career, Fitzpatrick’s career-high 13 saves were crucial to a Blue Devil victory. With kick saves followed up by tips over the net to stops on free positions, the goalie has earned her stripes as a member of this Duke roster.
“I don’t have a lot of experience playing games,” said Fitzpatrick. “It does get nerve-racking, but it’s so easy knowing that I have some of my best friends playing in front of me.”
“I think the story of the game is [Fitzpatrick]. Thirteen saves … [is] pretty spectacular for her third start,” added Kimel.
The Blue Devils will be back in action Saturday at 1:30 pm as they take on No. 13 Notre Dame in Charlotte, N.C., at American Legion Memorial Stadium, the site of the ACC Championships later in the spring.
Get The Chronicle straight to your inbox
Signup for our weekly newsletter. Cancel at any time.