KENNESAW, Ga. — One and done. Three words that had vastly different meanings for Duke and Wake Forest on Friday night in their semifinals match at the Women’s College Cup.
For Duke, a solid season-long second half team, it meant its 1-0 lead at intermission virtually assured victory. In 11 games this season the Blue Devils (22-3-1) were undefeated when they led by a goal going into the locker room.
For Wake Forest (18-4-4), it meant its first trip to the Final Four would be over after one game.
Duke’s Mollie Pathman scored her first two goals of the tournament to lead the Blue Devils to a 4-1 victory and a berth in the championship game Sunday against Stanford. The Cardinal earned its spot in the match with a 3-0 victory against Florida State.
Physical play and tight defense were on display throughout a first half that threatened to end scoreless. But at the 42:06 mark Kim DeCesare drove home Nicole Lipp’s corner kick for a 1-0 lead. It was the Blue Devils’ fourth goal off a corner kick this season. It also was the first of two Lipp assists in the game. Earlier in the tournament, against Ohio State, Lipp also had a two-assist effort.
“The goal at the end of the first half was huge,” Duke coach Robbie Church said. “Absolutely huge. That gave us the confidence to carry on.
“We talked about it the other day, that we haven’t been a great first-half team. We’ve tried almost everything. It showed. Getting that goal and knowing what a strong second half team we are, I think was really big.”
The goal seemed to loosen up the Blue Devils. Mollie Pathman made it 2-0 when she buried a cross from Laura Weinberg at 50:27. After Wake Forest scored to cut the lead to 2-1, Duke answered 33 seconds later on Pathman’s second goal, this time on a penalty kick.
“Aubrey [Bledsoe] is an amazing keeper,” Pathman said. “We’ve been friends for a while. Done stuff with the national team. Was funny to take a PK against her. There definitely was some talking going on.
“I tried to really focus in, and I saw her go early — a little bit to the side — so just had to pass it in. I tend to get really relaxed before I take a PK.”
It was Duke’s first penalty kick this season — and the first given up by Wake Forest. The three goals were the most given up by Wake Forest this season, and the most since 2009 when it lost to North Carolina 5-2.
Duke now has 16 goals in the tournament.
“What a great response,” Church said. “We did a good job of responding right back. It was huge, the PK call. I liked the body language afterwards. I liked how we attacked and Molly whipped the ball in there and scramble came and we got the PK. I thought that was a really big turning point in the match when they were able to cut it to 2-1. I thought that was huge.”
It was, as Wake Forest never recovered. For good measure, sophomore sensation Kaitlyn Kerr scored her fifth goal of the tournament at 74:55. She now owns the school record for career tournament goals with six.
Clearly, the score-first-and-then-defend pattern has served Duke well. But is it sustainable for one more match against an extremely talented Stanford team? And it is a good thing?
“Yes, especially if we score three goals in the second half,” Church said. “Sunday we have Stanford, who obviously has had an outstanding year. And we were fortunate [against Wake Forest] to get out of the first 20 minutes without giving up a goal. We can’t try that again.
“We’ve got to make sure we play the full 90 minutes. It’s a national championship. I think you’ll see that. I think you’ll see a better [first] half from us. And hopefully we’ll continue to play how we’ve played in the second half also.”