Duke, which finished only eighth in the ACC standings and came into the College Cup as the lowest seed of the four teams, will play for its first NCAA women’s soccer championship Sunday.
Before a raucous Blue Devils-fueled crowd at WakeMed Soccer Park, junior forward Toni Payne set up Duke’s first score by Kayla McCoy and put an exclamation mark on the night with a goal with 1 second left to play, as the Blue Devils knocked off top-seeded Florida State 2-0 Friday night in the semifinals of the NCAA Women’s Soccer Championship.
Duke (14-5-5) will play Penn State (21-3-2), a 2-0 winner over Rutgers, at noon Sunday for the NCAA title, which neither team has ever won. Duke will be making its third appearance in the title game. Penn State lost 4-1 in the 2012 final to North Carolina.
The crowd of 11,676 was the largest for the College Cup that WakeMed Soccer Park has seen in the seven times it has hosted the event. The previous WakeMed attendance record of 10,042 was set in 2003 when North Carolina beat Connecticut 6-0 for the title. That crowd watched Duke, a No. 3 seed, orchestrate the victory with a familiar pattern. The Blue Devils got an opportunistic early goal and thereafter defended with a passion.
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“You saw the heart of this team today,” Duke coach Robbie Church said. “We struggled a little bit early in the game. Florida State came out very, very well and put us on our back foot. EJ (Proctor) made a couple of big saves to keep it at zeroes. And of course, in a game like this, the first goal is so important.”
Although his Seminoles outshot Duke 16-8, FSU coach Mark Krikorian praised Duke’s defensive effort as sophisticated, adding, “We had a lot of time to come back. I don’t know if we played another hour we would have scored.”
Proctor, Duke’s sophomore goalkeeper, got her 11th shutout. She stopped FSU’s Cheyna Williams barely two minutes into the match, tipping a shot over the crossbar for one of her four saves. Duke midfielder Ashton Miller saved a shot off the goal line by Natalia Kuikka. Both efforts came after FSU corner kicks.
“They have some great headers and airball players,” Miller said. “I saw a player go up and thought I would tuck in just in case.”
This was the second time Duke has shut out FSU (19-3-4) this season. They tied 0-0 on Sept. 20 in their ACC opener, but the Seminoles were missing five regulars who were away on international duty for their various national teams. Duke would dominate that afternoon, outshooting FSU 25-8, but couldn’t get a shot past FSU goalkeeper Cassie Miller.
That wasn’t the case in the rematch.
Payne got the ball on the right flank in the 32nd minute and dribbled into the right side of the penalty area. The junior forward wheeled away from pressure from four defenders and found freshman forward Kayla McCoy breaking toward the goal.
McCoy’s low drive beat Miller to the far post for a 1-0 lead.
“Toni is extremely talented at drawing defenders to her and lifting her head to look around and play the ball through,” said McCoy, a freshman who got her team-leading eighth goal.
Payne had another opportunity for Duke in the second half but drilled a shot off the crossbar in the 52nd minute after collecting a long ball behind the defense.
She found the range in the waning seconds though as the desperate Seminoles threw everyone forward. Payne collected a ball in the midfield to start her own fast break, broke a tackle and drew Miller out of the net before finding the open net with exactly :01 showing on the clock.
“On the last goal I heard ’10 seconds left’ (on the P.A.) and just decided to go with it,” Payne said.
FSU’s best chance in the second half came in the 73rd minute, when Kaycie Tillman ran down a long ball and appeared to have a breakaway opportunity. But Duke defender Lizzy Raben chased her down and tackled the ball away in the penalty area without surrendering a shot.
In the first semifinal, Penn State’s Frannie Crouse scored her 11th goal of the season in the 24th minute, and Kaleigh Riehl added an insurance goal in the 79th. Both goals came after Rutgers defensive mistakes as the Nittany Lions dominated play, outshooting the Scarlet Knights 12-5 and taking all seven corner kicks in the match.
It was the second victory for Penn State over Rutgers (19-4-3) this season. They had split home-and-home decisions, with Penn State claiming the Big Ten tournament championship with a 2-0 win on Nov. 8 after dropping a 1-0 decision at Rutgers on Oct. 18.