March is full of upsets. On Saturday afternoon, Duke came close to causing one against the No. 2 team in the nation — until a fateful 15 minutes changed that.
The 15th-ranked Blue Devils geared up Saturday after a streak of three consecutive losses to take on the team that shares the top spot in the ACC. No. 2 Syracuse fled a cold New York to play Duke at Koskinen Stadium, ultimately making the most of its trip to beat out the Blue Devils 16-10 and protect its undefeated record.
“I love how we were competing with them, and I definitely think today was a step forward, even though the scoreboard doesn't say so,” said head coach Kerstin Kimel following the game.
Duke (4-5, 0-4 in the ACC) took control of the second half in the form of a dart-like goal from Katie DeSimone that sailed through three defenders before landing in the net. For the fifth time, the score was tied at 6-6, perfectly reflecting the matched effort coming from these two talented teams.
The pace changed, however, midway through the third quarter. In came the first real run of the game, featuring three goals from the Orange (9-0, 4-0) in just a handful of minutes. Syracuse rode that palpable momentum to its fourth goal in a row, and from there, the game got away from Duke for just long enough that it was never able to win it back.
“Unfortunately, I think the third quarter got away from us,” said Kimel. “And I think that we weren't as disciplined on offense as we were in the first half, and that obviously gave them possessions which they capitalized on.”
The first part of the match was built on balance: The Blue Devils followed up every goal from Syracuse with one of their own, keeping the Orange lead from slipping past one. Despite a rocky start — Syracuse’s Megan Carney scored just 48 seconds into the match — Duke was tough on the defensive end. Senior goalkeeper Shaye Fitzpatrick stood her ground in net, successfully saving four shots in the first 15 minutes. She fought to fill the big shoes left by Sophia LeRose, who had missed Duke’s last six games for a medical reason.
When the first period was called, the teams stood tied at 3-3. Not a moment of the previous 15 minutes passed without tension. This did not change in the second quarter, as Syracuse once again opened the scoring with a quick goal from graduate midfielder Sierra Cockerille that Duke answered with a goal of its own, a low jab from sophomore attacker Carly Bernstein that slipped under Orange goalkeeper Delaney Sweitzer's stick.
As the second period took off, Syracuse cracked down on defense, running a zone that made movement a challenge for the Blue Devils. But it was a breakable challenge, as a string of different Duke players proved with strategic shots that kept them on even footing with the undefeated Orange.
“There were a lot of aspects of our game, I thought we did really well,” said Kimel. “[Syracuse is] a tough offense to contain.”
Syracuse finally widened the gap with a back-to-back effort by Cockerille and Meaghan Tyrrell, the latter of whom snagged a goal from close up. A moment of uncertainty hung in the Durham air as the first half threatened to end with Duke facing a two-goal deficit — until that uncertainty was shattered by Jenner. Jenner’s goal was earned; the Blue Devils held onto possession even as Syracuse got more tenacious with its zone. With just about 10 seconds left before halftime, Jenner caught a tricky pass from Caroline DeBellis and launched it into the corner of the net to put Duke a step closer to the Orange.
“The first half, I thought we played great,” said Kimel. “I thought we played really tight, especially on the defensive end, kind of made it difficult for them to get the shots that they wanted.”
When the buzzer sounded to signal the start of the second half, it looked like a completely different game: Duke’s hard-fought battle was over, its rhythm gone. Syracuse went on a 6-0 run that lasted all the way until the fourth quarter.
Enter Sophia LeRose and with her, a glimmer of hope for the Blue Devils. But Syracuse landed a goal just seconds after the San Diego native took up residence in the net. Two more before the quarter closed out gave the visiting team a 13-6 advantage heading into the final leg.
Katie DeSimone kicked off the fourth period with a clean goal, lifting the Blue Devils’ spirits back up. And like a bright spot in what was suddenly a dark day for Duke, the St. Anthony’s product made another clever shot with four minutes left. She followed shortly after with an assist to DeBellis, earning another goal for Duke and drawing a yellow card against Syracuse.
When Jenner landed her second goal, something became clear: The game was over because of one bad quarter. Take out the third period and Duke tied Syracuse 9-9. But a bad quarter against the second-ranked team in the nation has the power to change a game so much that it becomes unrecoverable.
Ultimately, the matter was closed as soon as the Orange doubled Duke’s score. Something clicked for Syracuse that did not for Duke on offense. While the former maneuvered around Duke’s man defense, taking advantage of every open shot, the latter faltered in possession. The Blue Devils missed passes and lost their speed, committing seven turnovers in the second half.
The Blue Devils looked tired, too, at the end of a grueling stretch.
“I think the big thing is that we've played three games in seven days,” said Kimel. “And so I think it's really important that today and tomorrow, the girls recover and rest both physically and mentally so that we're ready to go into this next stretch of two games next week.”
That stretch will start with a nonconference matchup at 5 p.m. Wednesday at East Carolina.
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