Duke women's lacrosse breaks close-game curse at Louisville, extends season with first-round ACC tournament win

Duke players celebrate down the stretch of their first-round ACC tournament win Sunday at Louisville.
Duke players celebrate down the stretch of their first-round ACC tournament win Sunday at Louisville.

With just under four minutes to play, senior attacker Caroline DeBellis brought the ball up behind the goal, moving to her right around the crease. Cutting directly toward her from the top of the eight-meter arc was sophomore attacker Carly Bernstein. DeBellis dumped it off and Bernstein followed through, breaking the 11-11 tie and putting Duke up — for good.

The ninth-seeded Blue Devils were on the wrong side of all five of their one-score games in the regular season, a streak they ended Sunday afternoon. Duke downed eighth-seeded Louisville 12-11 in a rematch of April 19’s 14-13 Cardinals’ win. While Sara Addeche stifled the Blue Devil offense with 16 saves, Bernstein’s two fourth-quarter scores made the difference.

“I'm so happy for our girls,” said head coach Kerstin Kimel. “They've worked so hard this season and we've just had a lot of tough breaks. So we're just really proud of our effort and excited that we have the opportunity to go to Charlotte and advance.”

Through much of the second half, it looked like Duke was going to fall back into old habits. Negai Nakazawa put Louisville up less than a minute into the second half. Hannah Morris scored her fifth of the day on a free-position shot just more than two minutes later. Senior midfielder Lexi Schmalz, who has been near-automatic from the eight-meter this season, having made 14-of-18 regular-season free position shots, banged one off the post on her first attempt of the day. Graduate attacker Maddie Jenner finally broke through for Duke with 9:26 to play in the third, bringing her team within striking distance. 

Junior midfielder Maddie McCorkle and Schmalz notched the next two within 15 seconds of each other, flipping the narrative halfway through the quarter. But in tight, scrappy games such as this one, leads don’t tend to last. This one did not make it a minute before Allegra Catalano retaliated, keeping the score even at 10 heading into the final 15 minutes. 

Though the Cardinals struck first in the fourth period, Bernstein had the final word. With just under nine minutes to play, she was fouled right in front of the net with one second on the shot clock. While her attempt from the corner whistled wide, a false start by Nicole Perroni gave her a second chance. This time, she didn’t miss; just under five minutes later, she would score the game-winner. 

“We were able to have a ball for a good chunk of the fourth quarter in that window,” said Kimel. “... For some of this stuff to finally be coming together for them is really great.”

The victory was made possible by true dominance in the circle. The draw battle Thursday evening against North Carolina was indeed that — a battle. On Sunday, not so much. Jenner dominated, leading the Blue Devils to a 19-8 draw control advantage. 

“Maddie and all the girls who were on the draw circle sat down and watched film together last night, and talked about some adjustments and things that they wanted to make sure that they focused on in the game. And they executed,” said Kimel. 

When Duke didn’t have possession, its defense got to work. It caused 13 of Louisville’s 18 turnovers, an effort led by senior defenders Maddie Johnston and Cubby Biscardi with three apiece. Five field players had multiple ground-ball pickups. The Blue Devils caught their opponents’ mistake. 

“We just felt like if we played really good body position that we could be physical and aggressive without fouling, and Louisville would have a hard time handling that,” said Kimel.

Unfortunately for them, their offense was not immune to those same struggles. Duke had 15 turnovers of its own, only five of which were the Cardinals’ doing. In addition, while they dominated possession, lacked efficiency. Their 41 shots were their most this season, but only 28 of them were on goal and 16 were saved.  They only converted two of six free position attempts, typically an area of strength for the visiting squad. 

“We were getting really great looks again, we just weren't finishing our shots,” said Kimel. “Whether the pipe was their friend today or their goalie had another really great game.”

The win marks Duke’s first ACC tournament victory since 2019 when it defeated Notre Dame in the first round. It will take on No. 1-seed Boston College in the quarterfinals. When these two teams met earlier in the season, it was both teams’ conference opener. The Eagles took the matchup 17-8.

“We were a very different team,” said Kimel. “... Offensively, we know what they do, because we're just familiar with them from the league. And it's not anything super tricky, they're just good at it.” 

The game will take place Wednesday at 11 a.m. in Charlotte’s American Legion Memorial Stadium.

Rachael Kaplan profile
Rachael Kaplan | Sports Managing Editor

Rachael Kaplan is a Trinity junior and sports managing editor of The Chronicle's 119th volume.


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