CHAPEL HILL, N.C. – The 13th-ranked Duke field hockey team toppled undefeated and top-ranked North Carolina in an overtime shootout Friday evening to kick off ACC play in dramatic fashion.
The Blue Devils rallied from a 2-0 deficit in the first half and outlasted North Carolina, 5-4, in the shootout to earn the 3-2 victory after nearly two and a half hours of play at the Tar Heels’ Francis E. Henry Stadium. Senior forward Emmie Le Marchand tied the game with just over a minute remaining in regulation and redshirt sophomore goalkeeper Lauren Blazing turned in an outstanding performance in the cage, posting a career-high 22 saves and coming up with a critical stop on the Tar Heels’ fourth shootout attempt to propel the squad to its first win over its conference rival since 2006. Duke also handed North Carolina its first regular season ACC loss in three years.
“I was so proud of the way they played the game tonight,” said head coach Pam Bustin. “For us, it was just a matter of keeping possession and keeping our composure and going for the attack when we had a chance … They dug deep physically too.”
Both sides came out firing in the first overtime period, with graduate student Cherry Seaborn nearly scoring on a reverse tip with just under five minutes to go. Blazing tallied three saves and the Tar Heels’ Sassi Ammer recorded one but the score would remain locked at 2-2 at the end of the 15-minute period to force a second overtime.
Despite playing a man down for much of the second overtime, Blazing and the Blue Devil defense weathered seven shots by North Carolina and a pair of penalty corners after time expired to send the game to a shootout.
In the shootout, both teams scored on their first three attempts, with Le Marchand, junior Abby Beltrani and freshman Heather Morris successfully converting for Duke. Blazing was able to stop the Tar Heels’ Rachel Magerman on the fourth attempt, and Seaborn and senior Paula Heimbach finished off the shootout with goals to claim the victory for the Blue Devils.
“North Carolina and Duke have a lot of history,” Blazing said. “They’re a great team, so coming out and playing that way and winning against them was just unreal.”
The Duke defense was solid through the first couple of North Carolina scoring threats to start the match, but surrendered a penalty stroke to the Tar Heels’ Marta Malmberg at the 26:40 mark. The home squad continued to press the ball into its offensive third over the next several possessions, keeping the Blue Devils’ back line busy. Blazing responded with seven saves in the first 27 minutes of action before North Carolina’s Samantha Travers converted on a penalty corner opportunity to give the Tar Heels a 2-0 advantage.
“In the beginning of the game, we were just a little too tight on things and we made errors,” Bustin said. “Fortunately it was early in the game so they had time to back on track and make a few corrections. We started clicking in the last 10 minutes of the first half and we just kept getting better.”
Redshirt senior Devon Gagliardi swung momentum to Duke just a short time later, tapping in a feed from junior forward Jessica Buttinger in the 32nd minute to cut the deficit to one goal. The score was Gagliardi’s second in as many games while Buttinger picked up her second assist of the fall.
The Blue Devils earned their first penalty corner opportunity just before the horn and had a good look at the cage, but went into the intermission trailing 2-1.
The two teams traded penalty corner opportunities in the second period with Duke bringing increased pressure offensively. Le Marchand's tally with 1:15 remaining on a misplay by Ammer sent the game into overtime.
North Carolina outshot Duke 37-12 for the contest and held a 10-6 edge in penalty corners.
With the win, the Blue Devils improved to 7-2 overall and began ACC play 1-0. Meanwhile, the Tar Heels dropped to 8-1 and 1-1 in conference action.
Duke returns home Sunday, Sept. 29 to host non-conference foe Longwood at 1 p.m.