JACKSONVILLE, Fla. - Freshman Kelci Smesko collected the first hat trick of her career to lift No. 6 Duke to a 10-7 victory over Jacksonville in the first meeting between the two programs Wednesday at the Dolphins' D.B. Milne Field. The Blue Devils improve to 7-1 on the spring with the non-conference win, while Jacksonville fell to 5-3.
Duke (7-1, 1-1 ACC) took a one-goal advantage into halftime and outscored the Dolphins 6-4 in the second period to earn its third consecutive win and second on the road. A strong second-half showing at the draw helped the Blue Devils win the category by an 11-8 margin while Jacksonville held the edge in shots (24-21) and in ground balls (17-12).
"We came in prepared knowing that we were going to face a very veteran team that has seen a lot of success," said head coach Kerstin Kimel. "I always think for a young team to be in a tough, neck-and-neck game and hold on and win is great - that's a huge accomplishment for us."
Duke opened the contest on a 3-1 run with senior Makenzie Hommel scoring the game's first goal and sophomore Brigid Smith following with two of her own. While turnovers plagued both squads over the next 10 minutes, the Blue Devil defense stayed solid on its end of the field, led by freshman Kelsey Duryea's six first-half stops in goal.
After junior Molly Quirke netted a goal at the 6:25 mark, Jacksonville converted a pair of free position attempts in the final four minutes of the period to cut Duke's advantage to 4-3 at the break.
"Jacksonville forced us to have make uncharacteristic turnovers, particularly in clearing the ball," Kimel said. "But we're on the road and I thought we handled the situation very well. We had to overcome a lot in different areas of the game. I'm very proud of our kids."
Sophomore Kerrin Maurer picked up two points early in the second half, notching her 19th goal of the season and assisting Smesko on another score a couple of minutes later. Tallies by the Dolphins' Amanda Hurley and Brittney Orashen brought it back to a one-goal game with 15:34 remaining.
A couple of possessions later, sophomore defender Gabby Moise caused a Jacksonville turnover, sparking a 3-1 run by the Blue Devils over the next three minutes of action. Redshirt junior Maddie Salamone and sophomore Taylor Trimble won four consecutive draw controls while freshman Maddy Acton, Smesko and Maurer all registered goals to make it a 9-6 score in Duke's favor with 9:22 to play.
Jacksonville's Holly Ventimiglia added a score at 6:17 to cut the lead back to two, but the Blue Devils dominated the time of possession the rest of the way. Smesko's third goal with 4.8 seconds remaining capped the 10-7 victory for Duke as the freshman from Ridgewood, N.J., recorded the first hat trick of her career.
"Kelci scored some key goals for us and we needed her today," Kimel said. "She wasn't discouraged by her first opportunity. Young players can sometimes get in their own heads and not recover, but clearly she was able to, which I was really proud of her for doing."
Smesko and Maurer (2g, 1a) paced the offense with three points each, while Salamone won six draw controls and Trimble four. On defense, Moise finished the game with two caused turnovers and Duryea totaled nine saves in her third start of the season in goal.
The Blue Devils return home Sunday, March 17 for a 1 p.m. meeting with Dartmouth at Koskinen Stadium.