Rader's late penalty not enough to save No. 22 Duke women's soccer from road defeat at Pittsburgh

Kat Rader dribbles the ball forward during Duke's game against N.C. State.
Kat Rader dribbles the ball forward during Duke's game against N.C. State.

An 11th-hour rally spurred by a penalty kick goal wasn’t enough to push No. 22 Duke past Pittsburgh’s well-oiled offense Thursday night. Two goals within five minutes of the second-half restart delivered the Panthers their first win against the Blue Devils in program history. 

Duke’s defense worked overtime in the first half fending off a tenacious Pittsburgh attack, and with a little bit of help from the right post and crossbar they headed into the locker room tied 0-0. Outshot 10-3 by the Panthers in the first 45 minutes, Duke needed to convert its defensive effort into offensive production in the second half and take advantage of leaving Pittsburgh with nothing to show for its first half onslaught.

“Beginning of the second half we really struggled … We got to do a better job coming out of the locker room,” said Duke head coach Robbie Church. 

It only took the Panthers one minute and 32 seconds into the second half to finally get the goal they had been searching for. Junior Samiah Phiri wasted no time, charging downfield and sidestepping her defender just outside the penalty arc. She sent a rocket from downtown to the upper right post, where it ricocheted right past senior goalie Leah Freeman. Just under three minutes later, the Panthers did it again. 

Duke senior Katie Groff attempted to clear the ball from a goal kick, but junior Sarah Schupansky was waiting and ready. In one swift motion, Schupansky took the ball away, and moments later, Anna Bout charged into the box, putting it away deftly. Within the span of five minutes a tie ballgame became a two-goal lead for the Panthers. 

When they found themselves with the ball, the Blue Devils (5-4-2, 1-2-2 in the ACC) struggled to string together more than a few passes before the Panthers (10-2-1, 3-1-1) regained possession. They spent little time in their attacking third, further limiting their shot opportunities. But with just over 13 minutes to play, Duke was given a golden ticket. 

Senior Maggie Graham found herself in a footrace with Pittsburgh sophomore Katie Zailiski as they charged into the penalty box towards Pitt’s goal. Sophomore Ellie Breech came out of the goalie box and dove to intercept the ball before Graham could make a play, but just as Breech collected the ball, Zailiski shoved Graham into her and the two collided in mid-air. It was an easy call for the referee, and all of the sudden Duke had a chance to put itself within one and take the game back.  

Sophomore forward Kat Rader took the penalty and placed an excellent ball to the right side as Breech dove left. The Blue Devils finally had wind in their sails. 

Duke played the final 13 minutes with a renewed sense of urgency, the hopes of a 2-2 draw in sight. In the 80th minute, Rader found herself on Breech’s doorstep trying to control the ball and get a shot off in the midst of a cluster of bodies. When she finally did, it was just wide left. Pittsburgh’s defense exhaled a sigh of relief. 

“We can't start playing when we're down two,” Church said. “We need to have the ball offensively. We’re not a great defensive team if we don’t have the ball.” 

It was just too little too late. Rader’s penalty was Duke’s only shot on goal the entire game, and its first shot of the second half. The Blue Devils were outshot 20 to 7, with eight shots on goal. 

The Blue Devils will have to get over the defeat quickly as they approach a much-anticipated Sunday afternoon matchup against storied rival and national No. 1 North Carolina at home.

“We will be ready on Sunday,” Church said. 


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