CHAPEL HILL— The rivalry billing held true. While its history has been one-sided recently, this season’s top-four matchup felt different. But the new talent couldn’t quite conquer the dynasty.
The second-ranked Blue Devils fell 2-1 in a heartbreaker in Chapel Hill Friday evening in an aggressive regular-season finale. The game was scoreless through 45 minutes, and though Duke struck first, North Carolina responded and then some, scoring the tying and winning goals within five minutes of the period starting.
“We knew it was going to be loud, we knew it was going to be packed,” said head coach Pam Bustin after the game. “It does have an effect. I'm sure it does … I'm just really proud of the team stuck to each other and what we had to do and kept their composure.”
The Blue Devils (14-3, 5-1 in the ACC) had their chance to even the score. With less than six minutes to play, they lined up in that all-too-familiar position around the circle, Hannah Miller surveying her teammates. She kept the insert short, getting the ball to Logan Clouser at the edge. Maddie Kahn saved the shot, and it was the Tar Heels (12-3, 5-1) who corralled the rebound, clearing the ball with ease.
Senior goalie Piper Hampsch ran off the field with three minutes to play to give the Blue Devils an extra attacker, trying to replicate the formula that had proved successful to them just 12 minutes prior.
For its fifth corner of the game and second of the fourth quarter, Duke lined up around the circle with a man-up advantage. Miller stood poised and ready to insert, with Mary Harkins set the receive at the point. She passed it to Macy Szukics, who fed it to captain Charlie van Oirschot. The deflection snuck past Kahn, putting the Blue Devils on the board with 13:11 to play.
It took 26 seconds for North Carolina to respond. It took the pass back and went straight to the cage, with Sanne Hak tapping it in right in front of Piper Hampsch’s pads.
Three minutes later, it did it again. Katie Dixon, with an open look on Hampsch, drove it to the corner from short distance. Three-and-a-half minutes later, three goals were on the board and the just-settled Duke team was rattled once again.
“In those critical moments … seeing if we can make better decisions and recognizing them so that we come on the upside of that instead of either chasing the team towards our goal cage or giving up a defensive penalty corner,” Bustin said.
The Tar Heels thought they struck first, punching it in on their fourth penalty corner of the first quarter. However, the shot was too high without a deflection, and during the first quarter break the goal was wiped from the scoreboard, much to the dismay of the sell-out North Carolina crowd.
Though the visiting team may have been the one carrying the undefeated conference record and the higher ranking, the Blue Devils came out playing like the underdog. The Tar Heels’ storied program history and 10 national championships carry an immeasurable amount of weight, and with screams for the home squad echoing in its ears, Duke came out scrappy.
Graduate attacker Hannah Miller was everywhere in the first quarter, sprinting up and down the left sideline, attempting to recover each of the Blue Devils’ transition miscues and turnovers. Nearly the entire opening 30 minutes was played between the 25-yard lines, with both sides — but especially Duke — struggling to get the ball inside their own circles. Neither goalie was tested amid the sloppy, intense midfield play.
With two seconds to play in the half, Charly Bruder tripped up Curland, earning North Carolina its first yellow card of the season and giving the Blue Devils a five-minute man-up advantage.
“We really felt that we got our feet underneath us at the end of the second quarter,” Bustin said. “We could tell that [the Tar Heels] were getting more frustrated.”
Duke used the start to settle its nerves, maintaining possession through the first few minutes before advancing the ball into its circle and drawing the corner. However, sophomore phenom Alaina McVeigh’s shot went wide and bounced out of bounds off Paige Bitting’s foot, ending the Blue Devils’ best chance yet. The man-up advantage expired without incident.
It may have been the Tar Heels’ first yellow card, but it wasn’t their last. With time running low in the third quarter, Grace Pottebaum drew a green card, taking her out for two minutes. Kelly Smith followed before Pottebaum’s penalty was up with a yellow card of her own, giving Duke another advantage for the first five minutes of the final quarter.
Just more than a minute into the game, four Duke defenders lined up behind the baseline, splitting senior goalkeeper Piper Hampsch. The Blue Devils lost the foot foul challenge and were set to run their first defensive corner of the day.
They did so with ease, blocking the Tar Heel shot before it could get within Hampsch’s reach and quickly moving the ball into the midfield. They couldn’t get the ball into their offensive zone, however, and as soon as North Carolina regained possession it went right back down, eliciting its second offensive corner. Kira Curland, the flier on that play, crossed the 16 meters with ease, getting a clean stick block on Sietske Bruning’s drive from the top of the circle. Two minutes later, Duke’s defense lined up again.
“Piper Hampsch had a fantastic game tonight. She made some really killer saves,” Bustin said. “That really kept us in the game.”
The Tar Heels were returned to the short corner line in the third quarter with two consecutive chances, both Hampsch saves. The shots marked the first goalkeeper involvement
Duke finally notched a try of its own with six minutes to play in the first, but Macy Szukics’ shot was deflected around the stroke line and the Tar Heels cleared.
With the loss, the Blue Devils fall to the No. 2-seed in the ACC tournament. They will play No. 7-seed Wake Forest Tuesday at 3:30 p.m.
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Rachael Kaplan is a Trinity junior and sports managing editor of The Chronicle's 119th volume.